The historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina reopened to worshippers today for the first time since a gunman opened fire and killed nine people.
Uniformed police officers stood guard as a measure of extra security but the service started with a message of love, recovery and healing.
Addressing the congregation, the Reverend Norvel Goff said:
We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness? But prayer not only changes things, it changes us.
On Thursday, 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at the famous church, saying he targeted the victims because they were black.
Events to show solidarity are planned throughout the city and beyond, including the synchronized ringing of church bells. Governor Nikki Haley and Mayor Joseph Riley were also in attendance at the church service at Emanuel.
And members of the church say that despite the horrific circumstances they have been faced with, the welcoming spirit which Roof exploited is still there for all to see.
— Colin Daileda (@ColinDaileda) June 21, 2015
After a multiracial group of women sang “Amazing Grace” outside the church on Saturday, 29-year-old congregation member Shae Erdos 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. To have something like that completely shattered by such evil — I think it will be in the back of everyone’s heads, really.
People are expected to join hands in solidarity on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge this evening. The bridge’s namesake is a former state lawmaker and a vocal Confederate flag supporter.
The strength these people are showing in the face of such tragedy is inspiring.