Members of a historic black church worshipped at their sanctuary today for the first time since a gunman opened fire at a Bible study, killing nine people. And though uniformed police officers stood among the congregation of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a measure of added security, the service started with a message of love, recovery, and healing. "We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?" the Rev. Norvel Goff said. The congregated—which included South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Mayor Joseph Riley—responded with a rousing "Yes!" This morning marked the first service at the church since Dylann Roof, 21, sat among a Bible study group and opened fire on Wednesday after saying he targeted them because they were black, per authorities. Among the nine killed was the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
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," one attendee said outside the church yesterday afternoon. For the family of Cynthia Hurd, one of the victims in Wednesday's attack, Sunday's service will be especially poignant. Hurd, a longtime librarian, would have been celebrating her 55th birthday and was planning a trip to Virginia with her siblings. "Sunday will not be a sad day for me; it will be a celebration for me. It will be a celebration for our family because our faith is being tested," Hurd's younger brother said Friday. "She was in the company of God trying to help somebody out. She was where she needed to be." Events to show solidarity are planned throughout the city and beyond.