Members of a historic black church worshiped at their sanctuary Sunday for the first time since a gunman opened fire at a Bible study, killing nine people, and uniformed police officers stood among the congregation as a measure of added security.
The service started with a message of love, recovery and healing, which will no doubt reverberate throughout churches across the country.
“We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?” the Rev. Norvel Goff said. The congregated responded with a rousing “Yes.”
“But prayer not only changes things, it changes us,” Goff said. Sunday morning marked the first service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church since Dylann Roof, 21, sat among a Bible study group and opened fire after saying that he targeted them because they were black, authorities said. Among the nine killed was the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
Events to show solidarity are planned throughout the city and beyond. At 10 a.m. EDT, church bells rang throughout downtown this “Holy City” – which garnered the nickname because of the numerous churches here.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Mayor Joseph Riley attended the service at Emanuel.
Despite grim circumstances the congregation has been faced with, the welcoming spirit Roof exploited before the shooting is still alive, church members said.
“I think just because of what people have gone through emotions are definitely heightened, not just in Charleston but with anyone going to church because it is such a sacred place, it is such a safe place,” Shae Erdos, 29, said after a multiracial group of women sang “Amazing Grace” outside the church Saturday afternoon.
“To have something like that completely shattered by such evil – I think it will be in the back of everyone’s heads, really,” Erdos said. Erdos was planning on attending Sunday service in nearby Mount Pleasant.
The suburb is connected to Charleston by the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, where people are expected to join hands in solidarity Sunday evening. The bridge’s namesake is a former state lawmaker and a vocal Confederate flag supporter.