A handful of stalwart members of Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland gathered Wednesday evening for a Bible study and prayer meeting.

The weekly gatherings are on summer hiatus, but the Rev. Kenneth Lewis called the special meeting in the wake of the mass shooting one week ago at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were killed while attending a similar study group.

Members of Green Memorial – one of only three primarily black congregations in Maine – are reeling with shock, grief and disgust at what happened to their spiritual “cousins” in Charleston, study group members said. But there was no reluctance in returning to the historic church and spiritual refuge on Sheridan Street in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood.

“It’s time to come together,” said Margaret Melanson of Portland. “It’s time to show up. You’re not going to keep me from showing up. My son asked me if I was scared to go to church. I said no, but if something bad was going to happen to me, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Though of different denominations, the Portland and Charleston churches share a similar heritage born out of racism and discrimination that blacks experienced in white-led Methodist congregations.

Built in 1914, Green Memorial was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Today, it has 335 members from across southern Maine, about 60 percent of whom are black, Lewis said.

In leading the Bible study, Lewis talked about the need for balance among the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of life. He spoke of God as an unlimited source of power in the face of immense challenges and the church as a source of fellowship and family.

“I need people to live, but I also need principles to live by,” Lewis said. “Whatever I reap, I sow. That never, ever changes.”

Quoting Ephesians – “God has made us what we are, in Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works” – Lewis noted the need to mirror Christ’s character and carry out the ever-changing mission that God has for each of His children.

“I can live my life by design,” he said, “or I can live my life by default.”

It was the capacity to mirror Christ’s character that allowed members of the Charleston church to offer forgiveness to the shooter, Lewis said, noting that forgiveness benefits the transgressed more than the transgressor.

Near the end of the hour-long meeting, Kathi Smith of Portland had a question for Lewis. She attended with her 8-year-old daughter, Ayanna.

“But when people think they are godly people and they don’t do godly things, how do you deal with that?” Smith asked Lewis. “I’m having such a hard time dealing with the hypocrisy of what’s happening. People who profess to have God in their lives but have such hatred in their hearts because of someone’s skin color or religion or gender or ethnicity.”

“Well, you know, wheat and weeds grow together,” Lewis responded. “God gives us the gift of discernment. What’s my responsibility? To be the best stalk of wheat I can be. When I see hypocrisy, I’m going to call it out, but I’m going to do it in love, (because) I’d rather convert the sinner than cause the sinner to leave.”

In recent days, Josh Hughes of Scarborough has reflected on the importance of God’s grace in his family’s life. He shared his thoughts with his 2-year-old daughter, Issa, while the two of them sat on the porch, watching the rain.

“The spiritual part of our lives is the most important part,” Hughes said at the close of the meeting. “I told her to follow what God is telling you.”

Hughes said the best antidote to the hatred and harm inflicted in Charleston is love.

“It’s very easy to operate from a place of hate,” Hughes said. “We can choose to hate or we can choose to love. I choose to love.”