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Emotional Service Held At Charleston Church Days After Shootings

June 21, 2015

Updated at 11:10 a.m. ET

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., today is holding its first Sunday service following a horrific shooting that killed nine members of a Bible study group there.

Dylann Roof, 21 — who has apparently expressed strong racist and white supremacist views — is charged in the Wednesday night killings, in which nine members of a Bible study group at the historic black church were shot dead. Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pickney, was among those killed.

As parishioners and visitors fanned themselves against the heat of the first day of summer, the service opened at 9:30 a.m. ET to filled pews. Hundreds more gathered outside the church.

The service opened with the hymns “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow” and “Blessed Assurance.”

The Rev. Norvel Goff said: “we still believe prayer changes things. … prayer not only changes things, it changes us.”

“Many hearts are broken and tears being shed,” he said. “Through it all we are reminded that we serve a God who still cares.”

Delivering the sermon later, he acknowledged “it has been tough. it has been rough. Some of us have been downright angry.”

But, he said “We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out, to make a better state and place to live.”

He thanked Gov. Nikki Haley for making sure “the perpetrator that committed that heinous act was pursued and captured and brought back to South Carolina.”

He also thanked Charleston Mayor Joseph Ripley and law enforcement.

“I have no problem with doing it,” he said to loud applause.

“Respect gets respect,” Goff said.

“We have difficulties ahead, but the only way evil can triumph is for good folks to sit down and do nothing,” he said.

Earlier, the Rev. John H. Gillison prayed that “in life there are ups and downs. There are dark days, but there are also bright days.”

He called on God to “guide and strengthen those families who were victimized,” and referring to Wednesday’s tragedy said “the devil tried to take charge.”

“But the devil cannot take control of your people and cannot take control of your church,” Gillison said.

NPR’s Debbie Elliott, reporting from the church, says: “It’s a very emotional day for the city of Charleston. People are gathering, bringing flowers, weeping, praying, and preparing for this very difficult morning.”

Debbie adds: “This is all happening at the same time that police officers and their dogs are doing searches of the parking lot and preparing the church to be a safe place for people to come and remember this morning.”

The Rev. Randolph Miller, pastor of Nichols Chapel AME Church in Charleston, tells CNN: “We must continue to preach [forgiveness] and drive it home. It won’t happen overnight, but we must not stop preaching forgiveness.”

“Hopefully one day it will sink in and bring a change,” he said.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

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