Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church held its first service Sunday following the devastating shooting that left nine parishioners dead after 21-year-old Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire during a Wednesday night Bible study. Powerful statements from the Charleston church service came from interim Pastor Dr. Norvel Goff, who led an overflowing congregation Sunday morning. Among the victims of the shooting was the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who had previously been leading the church. Pinckney's empty chair was draped in black cloth and many, including Goff, knelt and prayed in front of the chair.
Goff found comfort in the Bible verse Isaiah 54:17, which states that "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper." It is that such faith, Goff said, that united and strengthened the church in the face of tragedy. Said Goff:
It's by faith that we are standing here and sitting here. Lots of folks expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us. We have shown the world how we as a group of people we can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out.
Parishioners from far and wide packed the church, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum. The main chapel was filled with worshipers in addition to an overflow area that had been set up to accommodate the many additional people paying their respects. The overflow area as well as the chapel hit capacity. At 10 a.m, church bells rang out from churches across Charleston to honor the nine victims and as a sign of solidarity with Emmanuel AME.
Reverend John Gillison echoed Goff's statements, delivering an opening prayer asking for strength for the families of the victims and calling on the importance of faith in combating such tragedy in a place of worship.
There they [the victims] 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 — Hallelujah that the devil cannot take control of your people and the devil cannot take control of your church.
Throughout the service, songs of worship were sung and tears were shed. Goff praised Charleston law enforcement for their swift action and the congregation for their forgiveness and mercy on Roof. Still, Goff said, the fight for justice was not over:
Let's not get it twisted. We're going to pursue justice, we're going to be vigilant and we're going to hold our elected officials accountable to do the right thing. The blood of the Mother Emmanuel 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 who are less fortunate than ourselves, that we stay on the battlefield until there is no more fight to be fought.
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