David Goldman / AP Photo

Charleston church re-opens after shooting, amid nationwide mourning

At packed service, sermon preaches love, forgiveness; presses for social justice on behalf of the "Mother Emanuel Nine"

Hundreds of members of the congregation, joined by visitors from across the state, filled Sunday’s services at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston, South Carolina, just days after the historic black church was the site of a massacre in which a white gunman killed nine people during a Bible study.

The sanctuary was filled to capacity, with some 400 people in attendance, joined by the hundreds more outside. The bereaved worshippers heard a message that acknowledged their grief but emphasized divine love and forgiveness above the hate that apparently fueled the violence visited upon their church.

“The devil was trying to take charge,” said Rev. Norvel Goff of Wednesday’s shooting, speaking from the pulpit once helmed by Emanuel’s pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney, who was one of those killed. “But thanks be to God, Hallelujah, that the devil cannot take control of your people, and the devil cannot take control of your church.”

Goff encouraged his listeners to echo God’s forgiveness and love in their own lives to help heal wounded hearts. “Some of us have been downright angry, but through it all God has sustained us,” he said, encouraging his listeners with a declaration during prayers: “May love take charge.”

While thanking those who had helped the church and the city during its mourning, he admonished listeners that the work was far from complete. “The blood of the Mother Emanuel nine requires us to work until not only justice in this case, but for those who are still living in the margin of life; those that are less fortunate than ourselves.”

Among those attending the services were Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

At St. Michael’s Church, a predominantly white, Episcopal church about a mile away from the site of the shooting, Rev. Alfred Zadig Jr. told his congregation that he had not known any of the victims. He asked his listeners for forgiveness “for failing to be a pastor who reaches out beyond my world.”

"You and I are so good at compartmentalizing grief," Zadig said in his sermon. "Today I'm asking you to feel the unthinkable pain.”

Several events were planned for Sunday to show solidarity with the “Mother Emanuel nine.” At 10 a.m., church bells rang across Charleston to commemorate those killed.

People greet each other after crossing from opposite ends of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge on Sunday evening in Charleston.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

On Sunday evening, thousands of people met on the 13,200-foot-long Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which connects Charleston to a nearby suburb, Mount Pleasant, across the Cooper River in a show of unity. The crowds held hands across the bridge around dusk. 

The bridge is named after a former state lawmaker and vocal Confederate flag supporter. 

When the first people from the Mount Pleasant side and the Charleston side met on the bridge, there was clapping and singing of "This little light of mine."

"It feels great. There's so much love out here," said Juliett Marsh of Summerville, who was toward the front of the marchers who walked from the Mount Pleasant side.

The crowd was so large not everyone made it onto the bridge, according to the local ABCNews4 television station.

Elsewhere, churches across the U.S. echoed Goff's messages of love and forgiveness, but also touched on social inequality, injustice and racism.

“Racism comes in many forms, and you cannot allow this devilish activity to go unchecked,” said Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III of Abyssinian Baptist Church, a historic black church in Harlem, New York. Invoking the legacies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Butts delivered a forceful sermon fueled by righteous indignation about inequality in American society, of which the Charleston shooting was the latest example. "That’s not the first time we’ve seen a black church attacked,” he said. “And I dare say if I know the context of this it won’t be the last.”

“We can’t be shackled by hate,” he said. “We don’t have any time for hate.” But Butts beseeched his listeners to put the violence in Charleston in the context of recent killings of black men by police in Ferguson, Missouri, North Charleston, South Carolina and Staten Island, New York, among other places. “There’s no way you can see what happened in South Carolina and not connect it to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York,” he said. 

On NBC's "Meet the Press"  James Clyburn, a black Democratic U.S. congressman from South Carolina called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to remove the flag from the state capitol grounds, where it is mandated by law to fly.

Meanwhile in Charleston, less than 2 miles from Emanuel AME, someone vandalized a Confederate monument, spray-painting "Black Lives Matter" on the statue. City workers used a tarp to cover up the graffiti, police said.

Photos on a local news website showed the graffitti before the tarp was put up showed the graffiti in bright red paint, along with the message "This is the problem. (hash) RACIST."

With wire services. Jessica Rosgaard contributed reporting

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