Southampton leads prayers for victims of the Charleston Church massacre

Reverend Willins, from Southampton’s New Testament Church of God Credit: Veronica Gordon

From Southampton to South Carolina, the Reverend of the city’s oldest black church prays for those affected by the Charleston Church massacre.

As Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church prepared to reopen on Sunday following Wednesday’s horrific murders, Reverend Willins, from Southampton’s New Testament Church of God, started his Sunday service with a one-minute silence.

The Reverend spoke of his shock at the tragedy and said: “I give them my wholehearted support because they are my brethren. If our neighbours or brethren are suffering, we suffer too.

“Our hearts are with them in prayer. And we trust that God will strengthen them at this time of bereavement.”

His support was echoed by his parishioners, many shocked that a person would carry out such an atrocity in a church. Churchgoer Zelley Adams said: “We are in prayer for those families who lost their loved ones. They have all of our support.

“I'm pleased they have decided to reopen the church and to carry on.”

Other church-goers praised the Charleston church community’s ability to forgive the perpetrator of such a heinous crime. Mrs Hudson said: “I am glad for the forgiveness they have in their hearts. I thank God they are not allowing this to stop them.”

Southampton’s New Testament Church of God has been an integral part of the city’s black Christian community for decades. In the 1970s it was a magnet to the Caribbeans who settled in Hampshire, from their largely Christian islands.

But its history began modestly in 1962, in the front room of a parishioner’s Clovelly Road home, where a small gathering of Caribbean Christians would hold their Sunday church service.

Over time, the congregation outgrew its humble surroundings and rented local halls to continue its services. Then, in the early 1970s an opportunity to buy a church building on Ivy Road arose. The congregation, now made up of Caribbean-born and Southampton-born members, sprung into action, donating their hard-earned wages and doing many fund-raising activities – including a walk from Southampton to Beaulieu – to raise the money to buy the church.

Their hard work was successful and the New Testament Church of God, Southampton, was founded.

Now the city’s oldest historically black church, it continues to welcome all and is a place where black and white worship together.