Myra Thompson was a perfectionist. So, when her husband, Anthony, saw notes strewn about the family table at his house the day his wife was to lead her first Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, he tried to give her comfort.
“I used to tell her that nobody could make something 100 percent perfect,” he said. “She would tell me she’d make it 99 percent.”
That was the last day Anthony saw Myra alive. That evening while conducting the Bible study, Myra, a minister in training and eight other congregants were killed by White supremacist Dylann Roof.
That mass shooting and its aftermath will be the focus of a July 28 gathering on the power of forgiveness. It will feature three speakers, including Rev. Anthony Thompson.
Few know forgiveness like Rev. Thompson, pastor of a reformed Episcopal church in Charleston. It was at a bond hearing for Roof some 48 hours after the shooting when Thompson realized its power.
At first, the pastor didn’t want to go to the hearing. A retired state law enforcement agent, Thompson didn’t expect much from the hearing. However, his daughter talked him into attending.
“I said, ‘We’re going to keep our mouths shut and we’re not going to say anything,’” he said. “We were going to be there for a few minutes and leave.”
As Thompson sat and watched members of other victims’ families forgive Roof for the murders, he said he heard God speak.
“The Lord said, ‘Get up, I have something to say,’” Thompson said. “I went up to the podium and I said, ‘I forgive you, my family forgives you’ and I asked him to repent.”
Thompson said from that moment on his life was changed.
“Before I knew it, I felt at peace,” he said. “After that, I was as light as a feather. That’s what allowed me to go on with my life.”
Thompson said the city and community began to come together after that. Folks started to ask what they could do to help to make things better. The four oldest churches in the city came together to hold services together, Thompson said.
Thompson has been spreading this message of forgiveness since the shooting. He’s been involved with Charleston’s mayor’s office to promote racial reconciliation with the same message. In addition, Thompson spoke at a National Day of Prayer event with President Donald Trump.
“The word is getting around,” he said. “I’ve been trying to change the city, the state and hopefully the world.”
Thompson wants to bring his message of forgiveness to Mobile, and The Pledge Group has invited him to do just that at its Shrink the Divide event at 6 p.m. on July 28. Thompson will speak along with Rev. Marshall Blalock, pastor of the oldest Southern Baptist church in Charleston, and Chris Singleton, who lost his mother in the shooting.
The event will be hosted by three local churches and the speakers will be live at one of the three places of worship, Smith said. Those churches are: Redemption Church in Saraland, Mount Hebron in Prichard and Harvest Church on the Interstate 65 service road in Mobile. Smith said the group is not releasing the name of the live host church because they want to keep crowds as small as possible because social distancing will be enforced. The state’s mask order is also in effect, so those attending the event live will be required to wear a face covering. In addition to the three host churches, Smith said seven other local churches will livestream the event. The seven partner sites are: Mars Hill Church, Praise Family Church, Northside Bible Church, Woodridge Baptist Church, Calvary Assembly of God, Christ Redeemer Church, Spanish Fort Methodist Church, Church of the Apostles in Daphne and St. Andrew’s By the Sea in Gulf Shores.
Smith said the event will also be livestreamed on the group’s Facebook page.
Each speaker will be given 10 to 12 minutes, followed by a one-minute video and then two Q&A sessions running about eight to 10 minutes each, Smith said.
Thompson hopes Mobilians learn from his experience to let go of the “baggage” they’ve held onto from folks who’ve hurt them in the past.
“Our first inclination is for revenge,” he said. “I want people to realize that’s not where to go. You reap what you sow. I want them to realize that it’s best to forgive. The only way to peace is not through revenge, but forgiveness.”
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