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Congregations Care for Grieved Following Election

Octavia Jones reacts as pastor Billy Honor preaches during a church service at Pulse Church

Octavia Jones reacts as pastor Billy Honor preaches during a church service at Pulse Church, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

Billy Michael Honor, pastor of Pulse Church Atlanta, wasted no time with nebulous parable or holy doctrine at Sunday morning’s worship.

“We might as well go ahead and address the elephant in the room,” he said after stepping on stage following praise and worship.

The congregation is slightly subdued. A few rock from side to side as the praise team begins its second selection of the morning.

"Here's my worship, take joy in it... I wanna put a smile on your face," the soloist sings.

But the energy changes once Honor hits the stage.

Clapping his hands, Honor referenced the results of the 2016 Election and encouraged those that may be carrying heavy hearts. "But I want you to know that we still have the victory,” he exclaimed. “Put your hands together and give God a hand clap of praise.”

And they do.

Pulse Church congregants holds hands during a service
Pulse Church congregants holds hands during a service, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

By now a couple dozen have entered the sanctuary, some with their young children in tow. Others walk in with coffee cups in their hands. The congregation is a mixed bag of generations – some parents of GenXers, others millennials themselves. Most of those in attendance on this day are female and black. Based in Atlanta's historic Grant Park, the oldest city park in Atlanta, the church identifies as an affirming, social justice ministry.

As he led the congregation in celebration and worship, he reminded them of the reality of political elections.

“The fact is, in political elections somebody wins and somebody loses,” he pointed out. “But we can celebrate that God is still God and in the fullness of joy there is victory. Is anyone glad to be in the presence of the Lord?”

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A few raise their hands. Others shout "Amen" and "Yes!" Others clap in agreement.

Religious leaders from across the country that serve communities of color faced the daunting task of providing divinely inspired guidance for believers grieving the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president.

Earle J. Fisher was one of them. Pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, Fisher said he made a few pastoral remarks during service Sunday morning and then recommendations for moving forward.

A woman prays during a church service at Pulse Church,
A woman prays during a church service at Pulse Church, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

“I try to make some critical commentary, inform the congregation on what has taken place and then advise them on how to respond,” he told NBCBLK, referencing the shooting deaths of the Charleston Nine and the events at Pulse nightclub in Orlando as examples. “Today I talked about being cognizant of what happened.”

Fisher, believing that those grieving have a right to grieve, said he wanted to give his members permission to be authentic on how they feel.

“Grieving is part of the healing process,” he said. “We have a right to.”

As Trump garnered the majority of the Electoral College votes needed to obtain the presidency, many saw their worst dreams come true. As they have mourned, some have sought solace wherever they can find it – from social media to protests in the streets.

On Sunday, many went to church.

Black churches have historically had two missions, Leonard Curry, a PhD student at Vanderbilt University, told NBCBLK. But he feels as though the church does not appear to be at the helm of this latest iteration of the struggle for black freedom and liberation.

Billy Honor, pastor of Pulse Church, poses for a portrait at his church, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta.
Billy Honor, pastor of Pulse Church, poses for a portrait at his church, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

“Black churches have comforted the afflicted by providing people with a space to grieve, and allowed them to reconnect with their power--God-in-us,” he said. “And, the church had been a space of prophetic speech that denounces evil, no matter how high the place, and announces the reign of God.”

And while black churches have not always fulfilled these missions equally well, Curry says they are still culturally and spiritually relevant.

“The church does not have to be in the lead, but it can help by showing that Christian spirituality is a resource for black liberation and freedom. And if there was ever a time and place for caring for one’s spirit, it is certainly now,” Curry said.

This Sunday Honor, Fisher and countless others did not disappoint.

Stephanie Crumpton, assistant professor of practical theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA suspected that some churches would be prepared.

“I think there are some congregations whose strong commitments to social justice keep them mindful of what is happening, and what could happen politically,” she told NBCBLK via email. “For these congregations, I don't think this is something that they are not ready to engage.”

As a seminary professor, she has spent much of her week holding space with her students, helping them regain their footing. At the same time, she has also been mindful to ground herself physically and psychologically.

“When I recall the religious identity of oppressed people, I think of the faith of the communities that raised me. This week I have found myself paying closer attention to the pictures of my ancestors in my home,” she said. “I needed to access how they survived circumstances that were clearly more horrific than anything we face right now."

The reality that Trump is president and that white supremacy and exclusion is still prevalent may not be comparable to what her ancestors faced; but Crumpton admits that she is still scared, angry and afraid.

D'Andre Mayberry enters Pulse church before a church service
D'Andre Mayberry enters Pulse church before a church service, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

"For me it is not a faith that retreats or makes us cower before God and people with power. It is a return to faith practices that subvert systemic and structural oppression," Crumpton said.

Curry was looking forward to Sunday coming, he said. He was looking forward to seeing what God would do. "If we can see a spark, a flash, a glimpse of God, I know we'll be alright."

At Pulse Church, they began the service seeking God for guidance.

"Even in the midst of political unrest as we have come into this place with an emphasis on raising awareness of the ills of this society. We ask that you be with us," said D'Andre Mayberry during prayer at the start of service. "Give us the courage to move like we have never moved before."

By the end of his sermon, Honor was calling his members to action.

"Anybody in here ready to get fired up," he shouted.

He instructed his members to let their voice be heard.

"Over the next four years, every time the government does something against peace; every time the government does something against equality, we are going to lift up our voices," he proclaimed. "It's time for heaven to start raising hell. You have to be diligent and keep your eyes open. I want you to speak up. Let your voice be heard."

Congregants listen as pastor Billy Honor preaches during a church service at Pulse Church
Congregants listen as pastor Billy Honor preaches during a church service at Pulse Church, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. Branden Camp / for NBC News

Irrespective of who is in office, Fisher said the work of justice, of working towards liberation is centered on believing that liberation is the will of God concerning oppressed and disenfranchised communities.

"We survived Carter. We survived Reagan. Whew, we survived Reagan," he said laughing. "We survived Daddy Bush. I survived Clinton without going to jail. We survived George W. Bush."

And so Fisher is resolved that surviving a Trump presidency is also attainable.

"If the Lord see fit. It does not minimize how heavy the load as it pertains to liberation,” he said. "Anyone fighting for freedom would have to know and concede that the road to liberation has gotten a lot longer and the hill a lot steeper."