The church massacre that killed nine people last week may have shocked Charleston residents, but it has not shaken their resolve.
More than a thousand people turned up at a service at the reopened Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday, ahead of what is expected to be a week of funerals and memorials for the victims. Gatherers repeated messages of solidarity and love, hoping to drown out the hate that embodied the slayings, the Associated Press reported.
“The doors of the church are open,” the Rev. Norvel Goff said at the first Sunday service since the killings, according to CNN. “No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God’s church.”
As police officers stood watch, worshippers shouted praises and raised their hands in prayer. Overflow crowds stood on the street and listened to the service through loudspeakers, while churches across the city tolled their bells to commemorate the victims, CNN reported.
Later, thousands more gathered to march across the city’s iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge — named after a former state lawmaker and supporter of the Confederate flag — in a show of solidarity and healing. Beneath the two-mile span, boats gathered and blew their air horns in support, while cars honked as they passed on the bridge.
The Sunday gatherings were, in some ways, an extension of those that occurred immediately after the shooting on Wednesday night, when a white gunman walked into a bible study session and shot nine people to death. Locals of various creeds and colors have since held vigils for the victims, and community and church leaders both in Charleston and across the nation have called for a unified response.
“There’s bitterness, but there’s also a very strong spirit of working together and being part of a long movement for change,” the Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, pastor for the Circular Congregational Church a few blocks from Emanuel, told The Christian Science Monitor. “There is something going on in Charleston.”
“We must go forward in uniting the community against this kind of hatred,” civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said in a Thursday press conference. “It is clear this nation has to deal with hate and it has to deal with race, and to continue to castigate and demonize those that raise the issue is not going to solve the problem.”