In Pittsburgh’s Black Churches, ‘A Deep Spirit of Lament’ Exists Over Last Week’s Events

Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette Ten-year-old Aniyah Grayson of the Hill District leads her friends Friday in the “Still We Rise” march, Downtown. Aniyah represented the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center, and she is the niece of the man who the community center was named for.
Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette
Ten-year-old Aniyah Grayson of the Hill District leads her friends Friday in the “Still We Rise” march, Downtown. Aniyah represented the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center, and she is the niece of the man who the community center was named for.

When she takes the pulpit this morning, the Rev. De Neice Welch said she’ll be hard-pressed to offer a word of hope.

Even before the murders of five Dallas police officers on Thursday, she said, the video-recorded shooting deaths of two black men by police officers intensified the fear, anger and hopelessness felt by many of her African-American hearers in the era of #blacklivesmatter and heightened awareness of such incidents.

“Sometimes you have to let the congregation sit in its own inner turmoil and honor the lament, the deep grieving, the sadness over a conglomeration of lives,” said Rev. Welch, pastor of Bidwell Street United Presbyterian Church in Manchester.

“We preachers love to just package tragedy and make a nice neat way forward,” said Rev. Welch, who is preaching today at New Hope Baptist Church in Braddock. “I don’t think we can do that. I think our best bet is to say these are the moments we have no answers and we come to the end of ourselves. And this is the moment you turn to God in ways you have never done before.”

Other African-American pastors throughout the Pittsburgh region are echoing Rev. Welch’s sense of crisis.

“The vast majority of us are in a deep spirit of lament right now,” said the Rev. Richard Freeman, pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock.

He said the Dallas killings, which also left seven officers wounded, only underscored the underlying divisions exposed by the police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the murders of 49 at a gay bar in Orlando last month by a gunman pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

“The crux of it deals with our humanity,” said Rev. Freeman. “We’re letting too many things divide us. That’s not saying those differences aren’t real, but we can’t let them get to the point where we’re hurting each other. We all have to understand we are part of this condition called humanity.”

The Rev. Glenn Grayson, pastor of Wesley Center AME Zion Church in the Middle Hill District, said the week’s events should have overtaken the weekend plans of virtually all churches.

“I think most pastors have thrown out their sermons,” he said.

For him, the nightmarish events of last week began on the Fourth of July, with the shooting injuries of four people Downtown after the holiday fireworks display and the shooting death in Rankin of Kennir Parr, 14, of Swissvale.

Hearing the description of Kennir as a hard-working student and athlete, Rev. Grayson said it revived his own trauma following the shooting death of his son, Jeron X. Grayson, at age 18 in 2010. He was an innocent bystander killed during a conflict near the California University of Pennsylvania.

Kennir “reminded me of my son,” said Rev. Grayson.

Then came the mid-week shooting deaths by police officers of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minn. Both deaths were captured in shocking videos on social media.

“We’re living in a society that’s at a breaking point,” Rev. Grayson said. “Those two deaths seem so unnecessary.”

He said he fears for other young black men that he mentors from the possibility of police violence “because of the color of their skin.”

But, he said, the Dallas murders were atrocities, and so were the shootings earlier in the week in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t think we have been as angry about black-on-black violence” as about police killings of black men, he said. “I am equally pained and troubled that there is not an outcry” about both kinds of violence.

All the pastors emphasized that the Dallas massacre were completely unjustified.

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SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Peter Smith

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