Leading the first church service since Wednesday's fatal shooting of nine parishioners in Charleston, Reverend Norvel Goff has told the Emanuel AME congregation to let go of their anger and 'pursue justice.'
The first service to take place in Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel AME Church since Wednesday's fatal shooting began on a note of love and healing.
"We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?" the Reverend Norvel Goff said on Sunday to the hundreds who gathered to attend the service and honor the victims of the attack.
The congregation responded with a rousing "Yes."
'Pursue justice' instead of anger
Goff is the acting leader of the church as Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, was one of the nine victims killed during Wednesday evening's prayer service, allegedly by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Pinckney's usual seat was the only empty one in the house, draped in black.
The reverend counseled those gathered to let go of their anger and instead "pursue justice" and hold their elected officials accountable for fighting racial hatred. He called on people of every skin color to "join hands and begin to work together" against those who would try to divide them.
Outside the church, security was tight. But inside, the service was punctuated by enthusiastic singing and clapping, before the tempo slowed and the congregation grew solemn as the names of the victims were read one by one.
"No evildoer, no demon in hell or on earth can close the doors of God's church," Goff told the congregation.
Racially motivated attack
After Goff's sermon, dozens of parishioners gathered in the church basement, where Wednesday's prayer group meeting was being held at the time of the attack, to reflect on what had happened. Many hugged and cried, while others sat in a contemplative silence.
Dylann Roof had been posing as a willing member of the prayer group prior to opening fire during their last meeting. His victims were all African-American, aged 26 to 87, and mostly women. Before the shooting, the 21-year-old Roof allegedly revealed his motivations by saying he had to kill them because "you rape our women and you're taking over our country."
Roof was arrested several hours later when a motorist noted his resemblance to surveillance footage shown in the media and contacted the police. The ensuing investigation into his background has revealed a racist manifesto reportedly written by Roof, wherein he says he chose Charleston because of its high ratio of black residents.
es/cmk (AP, dpa)