The congregation sang a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace" Sunday morning in Hempstead as about 25 students gathered around a colorful quilt they helped create to send to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
As the youngsters surrounded him, the Rev. Malcolm J. Byrd of Jackson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church led the congregants in prayer.
"Oh God . . . there is a long road that leads from Hempstead to Charleston. But there is one thing that makes us closer than the miles that separate us: We are all part of the family of God," he said.CartoonsCartoonists respond to the Charleston shootingOpinionOpinion: The dark world of white supremacist websitesOpinionOpinion: Psycho or terrorist? Answer is black and white
Byrd said the quilt, created during the church's two-week-long vacation Bible school, is meant to uplift those grieving the loss of loved ones shot to death June 17 at Emanuel AME Church.
"We pray when it's received in Charleston, it will be received in a spirit of love and gratitude, knowing that it emanated from the heart of your children," Byrd prayed.
The bright patchwork quilt was covered in messages and condolences from the children, with sentiments such as "feel better" and "never give up." Each of about 50 children who attended the camp decorated one of the bright red, green, yellow, blue, and purple patches.
Raél Swiney, 16, of Freeport, wrote: "Sorry for your loss. We are praying for you and we love you," on her square of fabric.
Kiersten Jackson, 12, of Hempstead, who decorated her green patch with a cross and a heart, said, "I want them to feel like . . . God will make it all better for them."
Byrd said he intends to send the quilt to Emanuel AME Church once a new pastor is appointed there.
Rita Williams of Freeport taught fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders during the Bible school and sewed the quilt together.
"Putting the pieces together, you could just feel the energy of the kids," she said, adding that the students put a lot of thought into their messages.
Williams said she is still planning to add a few finishing touches to the quilt, including the names of the victims and decorative bows. She's considering adding a piece to the back so the quilt can be hung.
Byrd, referring to the American society at large, said in his sermon: "Our culture happens to be the largest quilt I've ever seen. In each patch, we have an opportunity to make our own individual contribution to the fabric of humanity."