They Sat and Studied Scripture, No Matter How Long or Hot the Day

The Trace

Days have been busy this summer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. On the afternoon of June 17, a construction crew continued work on the church’s new elevator, built to carry aging members up to the sanctuary so they can avoid the long climb up the stairs. A few hours later, as people’s workdays ended, the church began to fill up for a business meeting. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s 41-year-old pastor and a state senator, drove down after a legislative session in the state capital, Columbia. Church elders, ministerial staff, and other members gathered on the lower-level floor that doubles as the church’s fellowship hall, a big, paneled room with folding chairs and tables that can accommodate the entire congregation. Carlotta Dennis, a longtime member and church steward, keeps tally. “We have a membership of about 927,” she says, then pauses. “I guess … minus nine.”