Shortly after Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg took office in 2016, he reached out to several pastors for counsel.

He had been thinking about how the city fared following 2015's Emanuel AME Church massacre, about how a web of strong relationships helped Charleston shine during one of its darkest hours.

Tecklenburg hoped that this gathering of religious leaders not only would build on those relationships but also find new ways to promote good works.

That discussion since has coalesced into the Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council, a group of 77 leaders across different faiths and denominations that gathers once every three months to get to know one another and brainstorm about ways to work together to put their faith in action.

"For the city to come together like it did, I think one of the factors was those relationships in our community existed already," he said. "I felt that I wanted to take it to the next step. I wanted to try to bring action steps ... to make good things happen in our community."

A discussion at an earlier Clergy Advisory Council meeting helped prompt Awaken Church to coordinate Charleston Love Week, a successful volunteer push in December in which about 3,000 volunteers gave 10,000 hours of their time to help 30 different nonprofit groups.

The council now is working on the "Holy City Hope and Healing Initiative," a yearlong effort by the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council to promote reconciliation and cross-cultural awareness.

Toward that end, the St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church on Daniel Island is sponsoring a visit by Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose story of surviving the 1994 Rwandan genocide made her a best-selling author and international advocate for peace and reconciliation.

She and seven other women hid from the warring Hutu mob for 91 days in a 3x4-foot bathroom. When she met the man who murdered her family, she told him, "I forgive you.”

Ilibagiza will talk at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at Bishop England High School's gym. Tickets, which are available at, are $10 and will help offset expenses associated with her visit.

Father Gregory West, pastor of St. Clare, said he sees a parallel to her forgiving those who killed her parents and two brothers during that genocide and the way some survivors of the Emanuel massacre responded.

"Charleston is like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden and can teach many others that love always wins," West said.

The Rev. Eric Manning, Mother Emanuel's pastor, said he was struck by Ilibagiza's story and her emphasis on the Lord's Prayer, particularly these words: Forgive us our trespasses (or debts), as we forgive our trespassers (or debtors).

"She understands the significance of what those words meant," he said. "We must as a city, as a state and as a country embrace forgiveness. We must show love."

During a recent event to announce Ilibagiza's talk, Tecklenburg singled out the Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife Myra Thompson was among those shot and killed at Mother Emanuel.

The mayor choked up slightly when he looked over toward Thompson and talked about how he served as an example: "This man was prepared for that day when that occurred. God had prepared him, and it's an amazing testimony of God's love."

Thompson, one of the earliest members of the Mayor's Clergy Advisory Council, noted that the Holy City Hope and Healing Initiative is still taking shape, but the council hopes to set a date this year and firm up details for a day of repentance.

"Everybody is exploring," Thompson said. "Everybody is trying to grasp how to put this together."

Clergy councils exist in several other cities and states, including New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Jacksonville and Nashville.

They are growing in South Carolina, however. In addition to Charleston's, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin also plans to start meet quarterly with local pastors and faith leaders this year, said Lauren Harper of the mayor's office. "We do not have the first date planned yet, but we do have a rough draft of the agenda," she said.

Myrtle Beach has no formal council, but the city works with religious leaders on certain events and solicits their feedback from time to time, city spokesman Mark Kruea said. "It's not an organized group, but more like parts of a couple of groups, depending on the need or occasion."

The city of Charleston looked at how councils operated in other places and was mindful about blurring the lines between church and state. The Clergy Advisory Council gets no financial or other support from taxpayers.

Tecklenburg noted the city hosts the council's meetings and is quick to defend its work as proper.

"To say government shouldn't be about building good relationships and building love within our community is not right. I think it's a reasonable thing to do," he said. "I think we're called to do it, actually."

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.