The Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark has been named pastor of Emanuel AME Church, where nine black worshipers were gunned down on June 17 by an avowed white racist. She will be the church’s first female pastor.
Since the shooting, the church had been led by interim pastor Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff, amid controversy. Goff is running for bishop, The Post and Courier has confirmed. He now also serves as the region’s presiding elder.
Clark was appointed Saturday by current Bishop Richard Norris, who will retire this summer from his post overseeing the district that spans South Carolina.
The Awendaw native will preach her first sermon at the church affectionately called Mother Emanuel at 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Late Saturday, she was crafting her first sermon for her new congregation, one that has much healing to do. She will focus on the message of, “I still have hope,” based on a passage from Jeremiah in which God tells the faithful he “plans to give you hope and a future.”
Clark said she wants to leave the congregation with a simple message: “In the face of tragedy and uncertain times, we still have a God in whom we can trust.”
When the bishop first approached Clark about the widely sought-after post, she was humbled. But when he officially assigned her to Emanuel AME on Saturday: “It took my breath away.”
She personally knew five of the nine people killed in the massacre.
“It’s just an awesome task,” she said. “You want to do God proud with whatever you do and approach it with humility.”
Clark was pastor of the historic Mount Pisgah AME Church in Sumter, founded in 1866 and a fellow “Civil Rights cathedral,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, presiding elder of the Beaufort District and a former longtime pastor of Morris Brown AME in Charleston.
Darby called Clark, a minister for almost three decades, an excellent preacher with a warm heart.
“She is very sharp,” Darby said. “Betty will do a good job. She’s a good, nurturing spirit.”
Mount Pisgah held a prayer vigil 15 hours after the massacre whose victims included Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and retired minister the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. Since then, the church has gone without a permanent pastor.
At the vigil, Clark told those on hand, “While I am in Sumter, my heart is still in Charleston.”
Mount Pisgah’s website still prominently features the nine people killed in the Emanuel AME Church shooting.
Throughout her ministry, the former Allen University chaplain has become the first woman in many roles including president of the Ministerial Alliance for the Charleston area and pastor of Greater St. John AME on John’s Island, Greater Bethel AME on James Island and Charity AME in Huger, among others. In 2011, she became the first female chairperson and dean of a board of examiners in South Carolina, serving the Northeast South Carolina Annual Conference, according to Mount Pisgah AME’s website.
The Rev. Kylon Middleton, who recently moved to Mother Emanuel’s daughter church, Mount Zion AME, called Clark a distinguished leader. Middleton was close friends with Pinckney and remains close with his family.
“We welcome her back to Charleston as she, her husband and family wrap their arms around their new church family to nurture them as they move forward as a relevant witness to Christ in the city of Charleston and to the world,” Middleton said.
Clark still has family living in the area and said she was excited to return.
“It’s not only like coming home but also mourning with family and grieving with family,” Clark said. At Emanuel AME, she hopes to “hear the voice of the people and the voice of God for the people.”
Meanwhile, Goff’s time at Emanuel AME has been marked with controversy.
On the one hand, he has been widely applauded for his oratory skills and for hosting major events and dignitaries at Emanuel AME since the shooting. Gov. Nikki Haley awarded him the Order of the Palmetto in July.
However, survivors and many victims’ family members said he has failed for seven months now to provide them with any spiritual care, a failure that has left them hurting even more.
The church secretary hired by slain pastor Pinckney also said she lost her job last summer after she raised questions about how Emanuel AME, under Goff’s leadership, was handling millions of dollars in donations that flooded the church after the shooting. Goff also is treasurer of the 7th Episcopal District, which spans South Carolina.
In addition, more than a dozen of his past parishioners in Columbia have raised questions about how their church took out several large mortgage and amassed tax liens that reached $200,000 during his tenure without the congregation knowing. They have sued the church, Reid Chapel AME, to gain access to its financial records from Goff’s time there.
Shortly after, Goff sued them personally for defamation.
Goff has insisted he did nothing wrong. He said he went through proper AME Church avenues — which require getting permission from church members and at a quarterly conference — before acquiring the mortgages, a contention his former members dispute.
The next general conference of the AME Church will be held July 5 to July 13 in Philadelphia, where the denomination was founded by Richard Allen.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.