ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A pastor from St. Augustine said the tragic shooting that claimed the lives of nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church upset him so much that he called for a prayer vigil for the victims at Emanuel AME.
Pastor Rob Rawls was leaving Bible study when he heard over the radio about the shooting. He said he was immediately filled with anger but as a pastor, he knew that it was his duty to his church to provide a space for them to worship and pray during a very tragic time.
"When I'm upset, I know I need to (worship and pray), so I can hear from God and make the right next move. And I thought that I had a congregation that was also upset and we needed to just come together and hear from God," Rawls said.
So Friday night, dozens of locals were at St. Paul AME Church, meditating and praying at a vigil organized by Rawls.
Rawls was very up-front and transparent with his congregation as they began praying for Charleston, the victims and even the young man who admitted to the murders.
"I'm crying because I really admire this pastor, and if I had to die: that's how I would want to die. Doing what God called me to do," Rawls said.
As the vigil got under way, there weren't too many more words. The evening was about personal prayer and meditation and coming together no matter what race.
"I'm going to be praying for the families in Charleston and also for him. We got to forgive him. We got to pray for him and his families," Gayle Jones, a church member, said.
There were prayers that came from people all over St. Augustine, even former Mayor George Gardner, who was also in attendance.
"This is the kind of thing I expect of this church and this pastor to recognize tragedy and to bring people together in the face of that tragedy," Gardner said.
And that's exactly what Rawls did, brought together people of all colors and beliefs with the goal of being their brother's keeper, not giving in to hate.
"But what I'm really wanting people to do is take personal responsibility. Speak up when you see that type of hatred and you witness that type of hatred. Don't say I'll just be silent, and don't consent to it," Rawls said.