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Emanuel AME Church In Charleston Opens Its Doors

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning, the doors at the historic black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. opened once again after nine people were killed there earlier this week. The congregation was trying to move on.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

MARTIN: Elder John Gillison gave the opening prayer at a service to remember the victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

JOHN GILLISON: There they were in the house of the Lord studying your word, praying with one another, but the devil also entered. And the devil was trying to take charge. But thanks be to God.

(APPLAUSE)

GILLISON: Hallelujah. That the devil cannot take control of your people, and the devil cannot take control of your church.

MARTIN: The congregation is still coming to terms with the shooting of nine of its members. Authorities say the gunman was a 21-year-old named Dylann Roof. He's been charged with nine counts of murder. But the focus today is on the community at Emanuel AME. That's where NPR's Debbie Elliott is this morning. She joins me now from inside the church where the service just ended. Good morning, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: The service was led by Rev. Norvel Goff. What was his message?

ELLIOTT: You know, he started by acknowledging that there are hearts that are broken, that there are people who are still shedding tears over the loss of the nine people who were killed here. But he also acknowledged that there is a statement here in the fact that these doors were open today. He said this - you know, by being here today we are saying that we are ready to pursue justice. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

REV NORVEL GOFF: Until not only justice in this case but for those who are still living in the margin of life, those who are less fortunate than ourselves that we stay on the battlefield until there is no more fight to be fought.

ELLIOTT: You know, he also talked about the reaction to this heinous crime here in Charleston and how the victims' families and members of the church have not reacted with anger and with hate, but have reacted with forgiveness. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

GOFF: A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us.

(APPLAUSE)

GOFF: They just don't know us because we are a people of faith.

MARTIN: Those pews were filled this morning. The church was at capacity. Hundreds of people were outside the church who didn't make it inside. But you got to be in the church when the service was unfolding. Can you just describe what it was like, Debbie? What was the feeling?

ELLIOTT: You know, it was very powerful. In many ways, these church members being here today are a witness. They are, you know, saying we are living our faith, and we are here. And you can see all the people around who maybe were not church members. They had the church members in the middle section of the church and everyone else kind of to the side. And everyone was all moved to see these people ready to come back into this place were such a horrible thing had happened and still be willing to stand up and profess their faith and talk about living their faith. I spoke with woman who lost her sister in this. And she said, you know, that's what we're called to do. Mother Emanuel has sustained us. God has sustained Mother Emanuel throughout history, and it's our place to be here today.

MARTIN: Emanuel Church has obviously been the focal point today and over the last few days, but this is a tragedy that has affected the broader community of Charleston. What are some of the other tributes that have been happening?

ELLIOTT: Well, this morning at 10 a.m., although I couldn't hear because I was inside of this service, all of the churches in this holy city - it's called the holy city because all you see are church steeples. There's no skyline here. All the bells rang at those churches today at 10 o'clock, you know, in unity with this congregation. They are going to be people standing on a bridge today joining hands. Everywhere you turn in this community, people have been pouring out their support to this church. There's a fund. There is our monies are being raised to help pay for the funerals that are upcoming this week. So people are very moved by what has happened here, and they are also resolve to seek justice in the end.

MARTIN: NPR's Debbie Elliott from inside the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. Thanks so much, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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