By Jake Crouse, Copy Editor
The two arched paintings that encompass the stained glass window of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. are common Christian depictions. One shows the crucifixion of Jesus with a crowd of mourners weeping at his feet. The other shows Jesus ascending, light emanating from the heavens around him, while the joyful crowd looks on, awestruck by the miracle.
Nearly a year has passed since the shooting that took nine of its members, and the Mother Emanuel congregation is still navigating between these panels, between a sense of crushing grief and a feeling of divine jubilee.
Members of the Furman Gospel Ensemble (FUGE) travelled to give the congregation hope through music over spring break, a time typically reserved by Furman students for rest from their rigorous academic schedules. But the ensemble felt the need to minister to a congregation that carried a heavier burden than its own.
“This was not just a singing opportunity,” Lynnea Harris, ’16, said. “This was an opportunity to speak life and peace into these people.”
Harris and 13 other students travelled for the performance, held on Sun., March 6, which included solos by Tre’Dessa Smalls, ’19, and Jasmin Waites, ’17. The ensemble was featured on the Furman Snapchat story, which also showed its journeys in downtown Charleston and a meeting with Furman alumni Tim Brown, ’82, and Marlena Davis, ’81, of the Mother Emanuel congregation.
The videos captured not only the ensemble performing, but congregants out of their seats, singing and raising their hands. After the choir performed, Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark, minister of the church, called the singing “a ministry, not just a performance.”
FUGE director Leander Jones, ’12, said the group has traveled to areas like Washington, D.C. and Nashville in its annual tours, but has never had an opportunity quite as unique and moving as this.
“It was a surreal experience…to be at a church where the senseless acts of violence occurred,” he said. “While standing in the sanctuary and fellowship areas of the church, the reality of how the shooting could have happened anywhere in America quickly set in for most of us.”
The weight of the moment hit Harris when she not only spoke with the friends of those slain last June, but also witnessed the bullet holes in the wall of basement room where the tragedy occurred. As she looked out on the congregation during the performance, though, she saw something unrelenting in the faces looking back at her.
“We could tell that the church members were still hurting…” she said. “But more than that, we felt a strong spirit of faith and determination. This was not a group of people that would lie down and bend to the fear of that horrific event.”
The words sung to these survivors resonated even as the students left the sanctuary and headed home, including the lingering lines Smalls belted out to begin the service: “When the storm clouds have passed over, we shall be changed.”
FUGE meets on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in Harper Hall. Contact Leander Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.