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Beaufort group plans Friday vigil for Emanuel Nine

Almost two years since nine people were murdered at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the tragedy still weighs on the hearts of many in the Lowcountry.

The Unified Interfaith Community Coalition of Beaufort will host a two-day remembrance event starting with a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Friday at Grace Chapel AME Church’s new location, 10 Holly Hall Road on Lady’s Island.

A day of unity will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 157 Lady’s Island Drive with music, speakers and reflection.

The Rev. Jeannine Smalls at Grace Chapel called for a unified prayer service shortly after the June 17, 2015 shooting, whose victims included state Sen. Clementa Pinckney of Jasper County, the historic black church’s pastor. Pastor Jim Wooten offered to accommodate the large crowd at the Baptist Church of Beaufort.

“It was a powerful moment of interfaith, interracial worship, with representatives from various faith groups participating in leading prayers,” coalition member Westley Byrne said.

Religious leaders have since made an effort to invite a diverse group of people to engage in regular conversation, forming the Unified Interfaith Community Coalition to try to bridge the community’s racial and religious differences.

“The UICC was not established to change anyone’s belief or create a new religion. Rather, it was set apart to forge an understanding that our differences are what make us stronger as a people,” Smalls said.

“Imagine what the world would look like if everything was in one shade. UICC will make things better in Beaufort and serve as a model for other communities that wrestle with how to come together in interreligious, interracial harmony, respecting each other’s beliefs without feeling pressured to forsake one’s religious culture to become a part of someone else’s practice.”

In 2016, the coalition marked the first anniversary of the shooting with a candlelight service focused on remembering, uplifting and moving forward. Nine candles were lit by members of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other faiths to reflect the unity the coalition believes is needed in society.

“Over the last two years, this group — made up of different beliefs, different faiths, different cultures, different races, different lives — has found common ground in a mutual desire to be in unity and harmony with their neighbors,” Byrne said.

“They have sat down together, shared their stories, broken bread, celebrated and mourned, prayed and played, and in the doing found new friends, learned much, sought more.”

Among the organizations represented in the coalition are Grace Chapel, Baptist Church of Beaufort, St. John’s Lutheran Church, United Church of Beaufort, First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort, Beth Israel Congregation of Beaufort, Unity Church of Hilton Head, Penn Center, Sea Island Presbyterian Church, Port Royal United Methodist Church, Waters Edge United Methodist Church, Brick Baptist Church, 4 Community Outreach, St. Helena Anglican Church, Bahá’í Faith and Carteret Street United Methodist Church.

About 20-25 clergy and lay leaders participate in periodic meetings. Call Grace Chapel at 843-525-0691 to find out the date and time of the next gathering.

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