Bible Study Resumes At Emanuel AME Church 1 Week After Massacre

Jun 25, 2015
Originally published on June 25, 2015 2:51 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Funeral services will be held today for two of the nine people who were gunned down in an historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. Last night, members of the church gathered for the regular Wednesday night Bible study in the same room where Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire exactly one week ago. From Charleston, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The sidewalk in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church is crowded and has become an emotional memorial with flowers, balloons, posters and messages honoring the nine shooting victims, including Myra Thompson. Thompson's sister, Marjorie Coakley-McIver, walks out of the Bible study and onto that sidewalk and seems overwhelmed by what has just happened inside.

MARJORIE COAKLEY-MCIVER: Lord, I just - the spirit of love permeated the room. It permeated the room.

SCHAPER: The power of love was the message of the night's Scripture readings. Reporters were allowed into the Bible study session, but were not allowed to take pictures or record. About 150 people attended. The presiding elder of Emanuel AME Church, Rev. Norvel Goff, often made references to the tragedy that took place in that very room one week earlier, saying God's love is a source of strength, the strength to forgive, and forgiveness, says Goff, sets you free. Another of Myra Thompson sisters, Claudette Coakley-Watkins, says there was very little sadness in the room, and instead, there was...

CLAUDETTE COAKLEY-WATKINS: Laughter, joy. He spoke of different sermon, different text. And every time he made a parable about what was going on and equated it to what we're dealing with today, everyone just laughed.

SCHAPER: That joy is something the family of Myra Thompson says they need to help them heal from the pain of their loss. Here's another of Thompson's sisters, Blondelle Gadsden.

BLONDELLE GADSDEN: We just felt like we needed to be here because this is where she lost her life. She was leading that Bible study.

SCHAPER: Gadsden says her sister was excited to be leading the Bible study for her first time, making it all the more important for her family to be at last night's session.

GADSDEN: When the presiding elder walked in, it just kind of made me realize that I am here in this same place where my sister was. It just kind of made all the difference.

SCHAPER: As church leaders prepared for the Bible study and for the upcoming wake and funeral services that will be held here, they increased security in and around the church building.

BOBBY RANKINS: We don't have security in the church. That's about all I can tell you.

SCHAPER: Bobby Rankins, head of security for the AME Church nationwide, won't say what kind of security measures are being taken.

RANKINS: We don't have no concerns. Everything's going to be fine. We put things in place all across the AME Church, so things are going to be fine everywhere.

SCHAPER: Rankins hints that security is being beefed up at AME churches all across the country, but he would not give any specifics, other than to say that despite the tragic shooting last week here in Charleston, anyone who wants to attend services or participate in a prayer or Bible study group anywhere will be welcomed in.

RANKINS: The AME Church is doors-open all across the country. We don't have a problem with nobody coming to church.

SCHAPER: Police and elected officials in both Charleston and North Charleston aren't so sure. They're concerned that protesters might try to disrupt some of the funerals for the nine slain Emanuel AME members. So the city councils in both communities just passed emergency ordinances, prohibiting picketing and other protest activities within 300 feet of funeral or burial services. Those ordinances will be in effect for the next 60 days. David Schaper, NPR News, in Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.