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Pastoral Shift At Emanuel Continues To Challenge The Church’s Resilient Congregation
6/29/2016 5:24:18 PM

Rev. Eric Manning preached his first sermon at Mother Emanuel AME Church Sunday
By Barney Blakeney

Amid its 12-day “Victory In The Valley” commemoration honoring the victims and survivors of the June 17, 2015 shooting tragedy at Emanuel AME Church, Rev. Betty Deas Clark, who in January was named Pastor of the congregation, last week was removed as the church’s leader. Clark had succeeded Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among the victims of the racially motivated murders of nine church members attending a weekly Bible study class. She became the first female to head the congregation.

Clark’s appointment to Emanuel also was a first step toward a return to normalcy at the historic church where the nine murders began a maelstrom of controversy centered around racism, financial contributions and the church’s leadership. Her appointment was to be the thread that tied together the fabric of the church, the unimagined experiences that followed the tragedy and moving forward into the future.

But as external steps were being made to project an image of methodical and successful response to the church’s unique circumstance, internal forces were at work to disrupt that process. According to one source Clark, because of her new position, found herself in demand as a speaker at functions across the nation. Those engagements required her absence from the church and her pastoral duties, the source said last week.

Word began to surface June 20 that Clark would be removed as Emanuel Pastor. By the next morning, social media proclamations indicated she had been removed. By that afternoon, those proclamations were confirmed. Seventh Episcopal District AME Bishop Richard Franklin Norris however did not respond to requests for information. A spokesperson in his Columbia office said Norris would not be sharing any views or making any comments at this time.

One member of Emanuel offered that Rev. Eric Manning, who replaces Clark, is stepping into a controversial role with the awesome responsibility of pastoring Emanuel’s approximately 1,600 member congregation still spinning from several adverse influences.

“Some older pastors are upset they didn’t get the appointment,” the member said. “This guy has only been preaching since 2007. They feel a more experienced preacher should have gotten the appointment. And our members are wrestling with the fact that many of us can’t even get a seat in church on Sundays. The pews always are full, but those aren’t Emanuel members. People are coming, but not for spiritual feeding. We’re tired of the crowds, the cameras and the media attention. We just want to get back to normal.”

And as Emanuel struggles to regain its footing as a church congregation, allegations of financial misappropriations continue to overshadow that progress.

“We still don’t know how much money has come into the church from the donations. It’s probably more than what’s been reported. And we don’t know what’s coming in every Sunday. That’s got to be a substantial amount, but we’re not getting any financial reports,” the member said.

Leon Alston, Chairman of Emanuel’s Steward Board and pro temp to the pastor, said while not all Emanuel's’ members are happy, most are receptive to the changes and will meet, head on, the challenges facing the congregation.

He thinks Bishop Norris made the correct decision in switching the two pastors and sending Clark to Manning’s former appointment at Bethel AME Church in Georgetown.

The change will work well for both pastors and Mother Emanuel, he said. Emanuel’s congregation is resilient and will do what Christians do - accept change and pray things work out, Alston said.

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