CHARLESTON, S.C. (CBSNewYork/AP) — 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.
A long line of people waited to enter the church for the emotional service while hundreds gathered outside in solidarity, CBS2’s Marlie Hall reports.
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.
Riley said the grief and mourning is so widespread in his city that he can only compare it to the feeling of loss people had when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the mayor said “my heart is broken” by the actions of what he calls “an evil man with his bigoted mind.”
Riley said he’s touched by the outpouring of support for the victims’ families — a private citizen handed him a $10,000 check on Sunday morning — and he said the NFL’s Carolina Panthers have contributed $100,000.
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.
Roof had been photographed with the flag several times before the shooting.
Unity Church of Charleston the Rev. Ed Kosak said delivering his own Sunday morning sermon would be emotionally taxing but he felt empowered by the strength and grace Emanuel members have shown — a demeanor he said has set the tone for religious leaders everywhere.
“I’ve gone into Sunday sermons before like when Virginia Tech happened, and when the Sikh shootings happened,” Kosak said. The situation in Charleston may be harder to give a sermon on because it hits so close to home. But, Kosak said, “I am more ready than ever to speak to this tragedy in ways I didn’t think I could before.”
On Saturday in New York, several hundred strong marched in a light rain Saturday from a church in Queens to a nearby park in stalwart opposition to the violence that took nine lives at a South Carolina Bible study and, once again, stirred a national debate over racism and guns.
“This was an act of racist terrorism,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, using a provocative term that some national leaders have refused to embrace. “It is abundantly clear and it pains us deeply that the pain of racism is alive in our country still.”
De Blasio was joined by several elected officials at the rally held by Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York, a church pained by the suffering at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the famed African-American house of worship in Charleston.
“Black lives matter,” said de Blasio, invoking the rallying cry used after the recent killings of unarmed black men by police, including Eric Garner in New York last summer.
“We shouldn’t have to say it,” the mayor continued, “but we have to say it over and over until we no longer have to convince anyone of our common humanity.”
The most poignant moment of the rally came at its end.
Attendees linked arms in prayer. They lit nine candles, one for each victim. After a moment of silence, a clergy member with a microphone called for the crowd to turn around and look at the back of the grassy field.
There, a middle-aged white police officer and two young black men were standing together, their arms on each other’s shoulders as they observed the moment of silence.
“That is the photo of the event that we need,” shouted the Rev. Craig Wright, a pastor from Long Island. “That is what we can be.”
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