By Alexandra Sosik
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Eric Manning, pastor of the Charleston, S.C., church where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners in 2015, delivered a message of reconciliation and unity Wednesday at the 52nd annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast.
Republican and Democratic legislators were joined by their families, lobbyists and constituents at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for a time of community and devotion to kick off the opening day of the 2018 General Assembly session.
Gov. Terry McAullife provided opening remarks and a prayer for Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, who will be sworn in Saturday.
“Thank you for the honor, privilege and support over the past four years,” McAullife said, adding that serving as governor was the “privilege of my life.”
Northam encouraged legislators to work together during the 2018 legislative season.
“We all have good intentions, and those are to serve our constituents and to serve this great commonwealth,” Northam said. “My prayer to all of you today is that we could root for each other, that we could work together and make Virginia a little bit better today than it was yesterday.”
Among public officials and community members who spoke were Attorney General Mark Herring, who said a prayer for the armed forces and safety personnel, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who gave tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Local music group Urban Doxology also performed a rendition of “Be Thou My Vision.”
It was the Rev. Manning, however, who delivered the main message in which he emphasized forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation as the recipe for a successful General Assembly session.
“When you forgive, something happens,” Manning said. “No longer do you have animosity, no longer do you strive against that person, but you do the best you possibly can do to help that person along the way. Because when you begin to help someone, then you are making a difference.”
Manning urged the legislators to practice forgiveness with each other the same way parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were able to forgive Roof after he murdered nine people at a Bible study session on June 17, 2015. The church, often called Mother Emanuel, was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest black congregations in the South.
During a court hearing shortly after the slayings, relatives of the murder victims told Roof they were praying for his soul. “I forgive you,” said Nadine Collier, whose mother was killed by Roof. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Manning challenged the legislators to turn toward what binds them together rather than turning attention to their differences.
“My prayer would be that when they are discussing or debating, or whatever bills they’re working for, just pause for a moment,” Manning said. “In that most high point of the debate, let us learn how to walk together. Let us remember to walk together, to help someone along the way. Because when that happens I believe that the commonwealth becomes that place where God would have them walk together.”