As a pastor and servant in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have a heavy heart but an enduring spirit. I pastor Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in south Baton Rouge. The attack against Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, sent shock waves across this nation and the world. I was at church on that Wednesday evening as part of my pastoral duties, as was Pastor Clementa Pinckney in Charleston. It is tradition that we convene Bible Study on Wednesday between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

This shooting was an attack on “The Body of Christ,” as our bishop, Julius H. McAllister, shared with us on a district-wide conference call on Saturday evening. Although our hearts may be heavy, we must continue to trust God and continue our faith walk. The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in south Baton Rouge will continue to provide a safe haven and a saving station for the lost. We will continue to help the fallen and give encouragement to the weak.

This summer, we have made an impact on the south Baton Rouge community with the Neighborhood Arts Project, and we thank the LSU Museum of Art. The Baton Rouge Police Department has been a vital part of this project this summer, as well. This will be our response. We, the family of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, will not be deterred from our service to God and this community. We will honor our brothers and sisters who were killed by being change agents for this community. We will not allow violence and hate to absorb our faith and our service to an all-reconciling and forgiving God.

Yes, we will continue to believe in our faith and our relationship with all humankind. We pray that our places of worship will be a sanctuary for salvation, freedom and reconciliation. The African Methodist Episcopal Church has always been a vanguard for freedom for people of color. Our founder, Richard Allen, refused to serve God as a second-class citizen.

We call on all people of good will and faith to stand with us as we continue to serve this present age. This is a response in time of hurt and pain. The prophet Amos records these words: “Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Herman O. Kelly Jr.

pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Baton Rouge