Names and messages are scrawled all over the trees in front Emanuel AME Church. The bark peels away, shedding what some call ‘endearing graffiti’ from last summer.
Mother Nature presses on and so is Mother Emanuel under Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark.
The pastor, who took the job in January of this year, says the church’s brokenness is as it was the day of the shooting.
“Sometimes it seems like yesterday,” said Clark, “sometimes it seems like today and sometimes it seems like we’re on the road to recovery.”
Clark was in Sumter that night. She had just finished leading bible at Mount Pisgah AME Church and turned on the television. “There was this banner at the bottom that said something about Mother Emanuel in South Carolina.”
Clark says she could not believe what she was seeing on the news at first and called every one of her friends in Charleston. “I still had to hear it from someone I knew to make it real for me,” said Clark ,”I couldn’t reach anyone and had to accept inevitable that it was true, that it was real because it was not only on one station, but several stations.”
Nearing her sixth month as the pastor at Mother Emanuel, Clark says there are new faces at the church every Sunday. “It’s evident to me every Sunday, every time I open the doors,” said Clark, “individuals of all nationalities that are coming to say I hurt, I cry with you, I care – what can I do to help?”
As for the hordes of strangers almost perpetually stopping out front for photos or something else, Clark doesn’t mind the extra care and attention for the church. “Couple weeks ago I was standing across the street and no one knew that it was the pastor standing across the street,” said Clark, “I saw people pulling out their pens, their sharpies and they were writing on this poor little tree and my first inclination was to get angry, how dare you do that to the tree?”
“But then I thought about it,” continued Clark, “they wanted to leave a mark, they wanted to leave a residue that they were here, and that they care.”
Clark says she prays for the trees, but more importantly, Mother Emanuel’s healing.
“It will not be a wound that will not heal, but it will be a scar that will tell a story” said Clark, “a story for future generations, a story that will help with race relations, a story that will have meaning and substance.”