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Shinn column: Local connections to Charleston tragedy

In Romans 8:31, the apostle Paul writes, “What then are we to say about these things?”

What, indeed?

As we begin to absorb the horrific murders in Charleston, we are thinking about those who were lost, and we are thinking about how to move forward.

The Rev. Joseph Bolick emailed me Friday morning. The son of Leonard and Rita Bolick of Salisbury, he is now serving a church in Richmond, Va., but was previously in Charleston, and was a classmate of Pastor Pinckney.

“We were briefly students together,” Joseph wrote. “He had a beautiful, deep voice. In conversation, he loved to show people pictures of his family. He was wise and seasoned, having already at that point served as a pastor. I believe he was elected state senator during our time together as students. When he spoke in class, you would feel a hush fall over the room, as people strained to really hear and absorb what Clem had to say.

“A regret is that we did not reconnect when I was in Charleston. The churches we served where quite close.”

Joseph served at St. Matthew’s Lutheran, which is just three blocks from Emanuel AME.

My friend Laura Whitley and I walked right past Emanuel after we finished the Cooper River Bridge Run last spring. She reminded me of that Friday morning.

She’s been through a whole range of emotions since Wednesday night, she said. “It is nothing short of positively tragic.”

She added, “The suspect came from my hometown, and he came to the town where I live. It’s very personal. Everybody here has a connection to it.”

I’m finding more and more local folks have a connection, too.

The Rev. Ken Reed, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in China Grove, was also a seminary classmate of Pastor Pinckney’s. The two took summer Greek together, a punishing course, as you might well imagine.

“Not only was he taking classes with us, but he served a congregation as a pastor, and he served as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives,” Ken said Friday morning. “While we were learning Greek grammar and translation together, occasionally his class time was interrupted to preside at a funeral or attend a committee meeting at the state capitol, three miles from campus. I was envious of Clementa, because while he was in class with us, he was also out in the kingdom serving God in various ways. I looked forward to serving Christ and the Church following after seminary. But Clementa was doing it all at the same time. And doing it well. And soon, we would, too.

“He had a calm, warm, non-anxious presence. In my brief experience with him, it is clear why God choose him to serve in various ways. He had the grace sufficient for the tasks.”

Connections are far away, too. My friend Pringle Pipkin Franklin, who lives in Charleston, is spending two years in Paris with her family.

“I believe this tragedy will draw the people of Charleston together, and that it will show race relations there are good,” she said Friday morning. “Charleston is a happy place. People generally get along. This horrible act of hatred in no way represents the spirit of my community.”

Speaking of community spirit, I had a phone call early Friday morning from the Rev. Jim Dunkin. Jim, who’s senior pastor at First Presbyterian, was eager to put together a community prayer vigil. I figured plans would come together quickly, and they did.

The service is set for 8 p.m. Sunday at the Bell Tower. I hope you will attend.

Because as Paul continues in the second part of Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who is against us?”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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