A united front of those who lost loved ones in the Emanuel AME Church shooting has come forward to denounce their former interim pastor for his treatment of them — and to protest his bid to become bishop.
When the AME Church’s general conference votes Monday for new bishops, the Rev. Norvel Goff will stand among 30 candidates one year after the racially motivated killings thrust him onto an international stage. Voting for six seats begins Monday in Philadelphia during the denomination’s meeting, held every four years.
Heading into that vote, the victims’ families said they want people to know that while the nation focused on their words of forgiveness, their pastor ignored their spiritual wounds.
Immediate family members of six victims told The Post and Courier Friday that once the high-profile funerals ended, Goff never called or visited them to pray or provide religious counseling even as he held memorials and other public events for the “Emanuel Nine.” Several said they contacted Goff repeatedly, but he didn’t respond. Nor did he send one of the three dozen clergy he supervised. Other victims’ relatives agreed but didn’t want to say so publicly.
“They say you’re family, but they didn’t treat us like family. ‘What y’all need? What y’all want? What can we do to assist you?’” said Nadine Collier, whose mother died in the shooting. “I didn’t get that.”
Goff was serving as a presiding elder when a gunman walked into Emanuel’s Bible study and killed nine people, including most of its ministerial staff. Bishop Richard Franklin Norris then appointed Goff interim pastor of the historic church.
The victims’ loved ones said they were dismayed to learn Goff was now running for bishop with Norris’ support.
After Tyrone Sanders’ son died in the shooting, Goff visited to discuss funeral plans. But he never showed up after that to check on Sanders and his wife, who survived the massacre by playing dead with their 11-year-old granddaughter.
“I haven’t seen him,” Sanders said. “But Lindsey Graham called me. Tim Scott called me. Joe Biden called me.”
Goff had no response to the criticism. Emanuel’s attorney, Wilbur Johnson, said Goff and the church “will not comment further on these matters.”
Finding new homes
None of the five who survived the shooting regularly attend Emanuel AME anymore. Neither do many of the victims’ closest loved ones, including Collier, the first to utter words of forgiveness at killer Dylann Roof’s bond hearing.
Collier, a longtime Emanuel member, used to sing in the choir. But these days, she goes to a church in North Charleston and sees Emanuel leaders as benefiting on the backs of those who died.
“Now it’s like a show to me,” Collier said.
Survivor Felicia Sanders didn’t find spiritual care at her lifelong church after the shooting. She turned to nearby Second Presbyterian, where the Rev. Cress Darwin counseled her about God’s work amid tragedy.
Fellow survivor Polly Sheppard found a spiritual welcome mat at Mount Zion AME, led by the Rev. Kylon Middleton, a close friend of Emanuel’s slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
His widow, Jennifer Pinckney, the other adult survivor, doesn’t live in Charleston and rarely attends Emanuel. Her attorney has voiced repeated frustrations with Goff’s handling of donations that flowed into the church after the shooting.
Bethane Middleton-Brown, who lost her sister in the shooting, said she became disillusioned with Goff when he allowed the Rev. Jesse Jackson to speak at her sister’s funeral without the family’s permission. They had made it clear that they wished to avoid injecting politics into the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor’s funeral, but Goff went ahead and had the civil rights activist speak anyway, she said.
“I had no clue until I saw the man sitting in the pulpit. I just wanted this one day to be about the joy magnified that my sister brought to our lives,” said Middleton-Brown, a psychotherapist now caring for her sister’s four children. “To us, that was an invasion.”
After the funeral, Goff didn’t return her messages, “and I called a lot,” said Middleton-Brown, herself the daughter of an AME minister.
Source: The Post and Courier | Jennifer Berry Hawes