Three years ago, members of South Carolina’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church invited a young stranger into their sacred space for a Bible study. Even though that generous welcome ended in a massacre, the historic black congregation continues to open its arms wide to newcomers.
The Charleston church, affectionately called Mother Emanuel, announced plans Sunday for a new memorial honoring the nine people killed in the attack. The memorial is meant to reflect the congregation’s spirit of fellowship, and will include subtle design elements that aim to make strangers feel welcome.
“When you walk into the memorial, it’s going to give you the feeling of being embraced, just embraced with warmth,” church trustee William Dudley Gregorie told The Associated Press. Gregorie, a city councilman, lost a loved one in the massacre.
Watch a video explaining the design of the Emanuel Nine Memorial below.
The memorial was designed by the architect Michael Arad, who also was chosen to design the National September 11 Memorial in New York City. Arad’s concept for the church memorial was inspired by multiple conversations with victims’ family members and other congregants.
The planned structure will consist of two large stone benches that face each other. The tall backs of the benches will be shaped like “sheltering wings” or a “pair of arms cradling visitors,” the church said in a Facebook post.
Significantly, there will be an opening between the two pews, symbolizing the church’s desire to continue to be a welcoming place.
“An opening between these benches widens at the entrance, inviting strangers to enter and join in community,” the church post said.
At the center of the memorial, a marble fountain will be inscribed with the names of the parishioners and clergy members killed in the shooting ― Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor.
The memorial will also include a Survivors’ Garden ― a lawn surrounded by five trees, dedicated to the five survivors of the attack.
“This memorial on the grounds of the church will help keep the memory of the Emanuel Nine alive and honor the resilience of the families, survivors and church members,” the current pastor, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, said in the Facebook post.
The unveiling of the memorial project was timed to coincide with Mother Emanuel’s 200th anniversary. The church is one of the oldest black congregations in the South.
Arad said that the memorial will pay homage to the church’s long history of being a place for people to gather together.
“At the heart of the design of the new memorial is the notion of congregation — of creating a place that fosters a sense of community that invites people in,” Arad told the AP.