President delivers eulogy for pastor killed in mass shooting

Mr Barack Obama brought the 5,500 people at the service to their feet as he sang the first notes of Amazing Grace, with the audience swaying and singing with him.
Mr Barack Obama brought the 5,500 people at the service to their feet as he sang the first notes of Amazing Grace, with the audience swaying and singing with him.PHOTO: EPA

Charleston (South Carolina) - Beginning and ending with the Bible, God and grace, Mr Barack Obama sounded a tone more reminiscent of a black preacher than a United States president in his 40-minute eulogy on Friday for the Charleston pastor who was gunned down in his church on June 17.

He brought the 5,500 people in a college gymnasium in South Carolina to their feet as he slowly sounded the first notes of Amazing Grace on his own.

By the time he got to "sweet the sound" in the first line, the audience joined him, swaying and singing.

Mr Obama, an occasional churchgoer at best, talked about faith, God's grace and forgiveness, with themes about racism and gun control woven in as he mourned Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41, the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

He was one of nine people allegedly killed by a 21-year-old gunman with white supremacist ties.  

The victims, ranging from young adults to senior citizens, were holding a bible study session when they were reportedly killed by the young white man they had welcomed into their group in historic Charleston.

"They were still living by faith when they died," said Mr Obama, who did not refer to his faith in his remarks.

"They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth."

The audience resembled a much larger version of a congregation at a Sunday service, with most in church attire, some including white gloves and elaborate hats.

"We want to thank the Reverend President," the pastor who concluded the nearly five-hour-long service joked after Mr Obama wrapped up his rendition of Amazing Grace.

Bloomberg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'President delivers eulogy for pastor killed in mass shooting'. Print Edition | Subscribe