CALIFORNIA

Forgiveness, but also racism and gun control, are sermon topics at L.A. service

'Give them the gift of love,' senior pastor at First African Methodist Episcopal Church says

The Father's Day service at the oldest black church in Los Angeles began Sunday with choir members clapping and dancing joyously down the aisle.

By the time the opening number ended with one last "Praise the Lord," many in the pews at First African Methodist Episcopal Church were dancing too.

Then came the somber references to Charleston, S.C. Four days earlier, nine African American worshippers at an AME church were shot to death by a white man they had welcomed into their Bible study.

The shock has worn off, leaving parishioners struggling to understand a deadly act of violence in a church much like their own.

In his sermon, Senior Pastor J. Edgar Boyd spoke of love and forgiveness but also of the need to combat the racism that motivated the Charleston attack. The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, appears to have embraced white supremacy, posing for a photo in a jacket decorated with apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags.

"If it's not a massacre in a church in Charleston, S.C., it's the next one waiting to happen," Boyd said. "If America is to fix the race problem which has plagued the entirety of this nation's history, we must all become involved in providing the cure and a solution for the problem."

One place to start, he said, is the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina Capitol grounds. The flag should be removed because it is a "relic of the distant past," he said. Boyd also called for stricter gun control, citing the gun that Roof is said to have used.

"Fathers, give your sons good gifts. Mothers, give your sons good gifts ... Give them the gift of love," he said.

Addressing the congregation, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that more than ever, African Americans need to fight back against racially motivated violence.

"Whether you see us in suits or in a hoodie, black lives matter," Ridley-Thomas said.

First AME, which was founded in 1872, continued its tradition of welcoming visitors Sunday. During the service, everyone who was there for the first time was greeted by a whooping cheer.

As church members brought donations down the aisles, Boyd described each of the Charleston victims. Among them were Clementa C. Pinckney, the church's pastor as well as a state senator and a father, and Sharonda Singleton, a staff member at Emanuel AME and the mother of a college baseball player.

Dressed in white with black ribbons pinned to their chests to honor the victims, choir members lightened the mood by belting out high-spirited tunes, including a solo by a woman known as "The Rapping Granny."

Outside the church, Brenda LaMotte said she turned off the television because coverage of the Charleston tragedy was making her weep. She is trying to forgive the gunman but "is not there yet."

"It's just a sad thing that there's so much hate right now," said LaMotte, 66, a retired government worker who has attended the church for about 10 years.

Tom Cassaro, a 44-year-old attorney, was a first-time visitor to the church along with his son, Marshall, 6. Cassaro, who is white, said he has attended black churches before and has always felt welcome.

"I felt like today was as good a day as any to come and say a prayer for what happened in South Carolina," he said.

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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