As grieving dad, Biden draws strength from Emanuel AME

Vice President Joe Biden talks with Emanuel AME interim pastor the Rev. Norvel Goff following the Sunday morning service.

A month after enduring his own tragedy, Vice President Joe Biden stood at the front of Emanuel AME Church and spoke from the heart to a full house.

Dressed in a black suit and purple tie, Biden said he and the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney had been at a prayer breakfast at the church not long ago. Pinckney was among nine people gunned down June 17 in the basement of the place of worship during a Bible study.

Biden’s attendance, along with his son and daughter-in-law Hunter and Kathleen, was meant to be a show of solidarity, he said, but it also was an effort to lift him and his family up during their time of grief.

“The reason we came was to draw strength from all of you, draw some strength from the church,” he said, noting that he had spoken and or met with each of the nine victim’s families since their losses. “I wish I could say something that would ease the pains of the families and of the church. But I know from experience, and I was reminded of it again 29 days ago, that no words can mend a broken heart. No music can fill the gaping void.”

Biden’s son died May 30 of brain cancer. Biden said only faith could bring relief during such difficult times.

“And sometimes, as all preachers in here know, sometimes even faith leaves you just for a second,” Biden said. “Sometimes you doubt. And that’s why I pray in the tradition of my faith. ... There’s a famous expression that says faith sees best in the dark, and for the nine families, this is a very dark, dark time.”

Biden read from Psalms 36:5-7.

“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep.

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

He said he took comfort in those words.

“I pray, I pray that the families will find refuge in the shadow of his wings, and I pray that the love that all of you have shown to them, and people around the country to me, will help mend the broken hearts of their families and mine,” Biden said.

The congregation stood in applause as Biden went back to his seat.

“It was a blessing,” said Lavern Smith of his remarks. “It’s a powerful message.”

Smith attended the church for the first time Sunday with friend and lifelong member, Courtney White, who said she was encouraged by Biden’s words.

“It was a message for everybody,” White said. “We should all be as one during this time.”

Amahl Bennett was born and raised in Emanuel AME. He currently lives in Rock Hill, but his mother is an officer of the church and he attended Sunday’s service.

“I thought it was a very moving, very touching service,” he said. “I think (Biden’s) words came from a very moving place. You could feel his spirit.”

Bennett said it meant a lot to the church that Biden came for fellowship after his hardship.

Biden sang hand in hand with the congregation, “We Shall Overcome.” He also watched as interim pastor, the Rev. Norvel Goff, delivered his sermon and a young man gave himself to Jesus Christ during an altar call. Biden wore an “Emanuel 9” ribbon on his blazer just underneath an American flag pin.

Mayor Joe Riley also attended the service Sunday and later sat with the vice president.

“His heart was broken by this tragedy,” Riley said, adding that he was not surprised by his visit to the church. “It’s just the type of vice president that he is.”

After the service, Riley said he took Biden to Pinckney’s office. He described the space as “modest,” with just a few pictures, but one that is prominently displayed is of Pinckney posing with Biden.

“I just wanted the vice president to know,” he said of showing him the photo. “I think his heart was warm. I think he was proud.”