Durham pastor to attend national commemoration service of Charleston shooting

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s been almost a year since the mass shooting inside a Charleston church that killed the pastor and eight others.

A national commemoration service is scheduled for Friday, the anniversary of the shooting, and a Durham pastor has been invited to attend.

On June 17, 2015, nine people lost their lives after authorities said Dylann Rook shot them during a Wednesday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Benji Kelley, the pastor of New Hope Church in Durham, said the shooting had an impact on him like never before.

“I see tragedies today and I pray and I’m heartbroken, but I move on,” he said. “But that one stopped me in my tracks and I had just never imagined an event so horrific.”

Kelley said he was inspired to visit the church less than a month after the shooting and give the church a love offering.

Now, he is preparing to go back after being invited to the national commemoration service.

“I feel like now it’s a time to move from sympathy to solidarity,” he said. “How do we continue to stand with our brothers and sisters of all ethnic groups.”

On Friday, at 7 p.m., the very hour the shooting happened, the group will come together for worship, prayer and reflection at the church.

“I can only imagine how moving that is going to be with prayers, with weeping, with joy of the fact that God is taking this loss and this pain, and he’s redeeming it,” he said.

Kelley, who grew up less than 100 miles from Charleston, said he strives for progression and racial equality.

He hopes the trip back home is a step in the right direction.

“I’m just humbled,” he said. “I’m very grateful to be able to be a part of the racial healing that our country so desperately needs.”

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