Emanuel AME Church Reopens, Charleston Worshippers Pay Their Respects

Jun 22, 2015
Originally published on June 22, 2015 8:07 am
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's listen to the sounds yesterday from inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. That's where a gunman killed nine worshipers Wednesday night in what authorities say was a racially motivated attack. Yesterday, the church reopened. The faithful returned. NPR's Debbie Elliott was there.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: It was a Sabbath like no other in the holy city.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELL)

ELLIOTT: In a show of unity, church bell towers throughout Charleston chimed in unison as Emanuel's congregation filled the sanctuary for Sunday services.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

REV NORVEL GOFF: Let somebody say hallelujah.

CHURCH CONGREGATION: Hallelujah.

GOFF: Let somebody say praise the Lord.

CHURCH CONGREGATION: Praise the Lord.

ELLIOTT: The building that had been cordoned off as a crime scene since Wednesday was again a house of worship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLESSED ASSURANCE")

CHURCH CONGREGATION: (Singing) This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior...

ELLIOTT: The Rev. Norvel Goff led the service, but first, he kneeled in front of a chair draped in a black cloth, the chair where Emanuel's pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, would sit. Pinckney and eight church members were gunned down in the basement below during weekly Bible study.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

GOFF: It has been tough. It's been rough. We've - some of us have been downright angry.

ELLIOTT: Despite that, Goff says, the victims' families and church community have responded with forgiveness.

(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.

ELLIOTT: The pews and balcony were packed, worshipers fanning themselves in the stifling heat. Goff says the return to Mother Emanuel after such a heinous crime sends a powerful message.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SERVICE)

GOFF: No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God's church.

ELLIOTT: After worship, church members lingered in the sanctuary, hugging and wiping away tears. Coming here was difficult for Eunice Coakley Guyton.

EUNICE COAKLEY GUYTON: It was hurtful.

ELLIOTT: Her sister, Myra Thompson, was among those killed.

GUYTON: We don't know the whys and the wherefores, but we know that God is in control. He's been good to Mother Emanuel. He's brought her through a lot, and I know he won't give up.

ELLIOTT: Emanuel is one of the oldest black churches in the South and survived being burned down for its role in a slave revolt. Today, its tall brown spire is one of the most recognizable in Charleston, called the holy city because of the steeples that mark the city's skyline.

EVA BRYANT: You would think that it would never happen in a holy city, but look what happened.

ELLIOTT: Eva Bryant came up from St. George, S.C., to attend worship. She says there's work ahead given the hate behind these murders.

BRYANT: So we as a people, it doesn't matter whether it's race, ethnic background, we need to come together. And I don't think just packing the church pews is going to be enough. We need to get out in the streets.

ELLIOTT: Other congregations in South Carolina were reaching out in services yesterday. At the predominantly white Grace Community Church, Lisa Houck was one of many sending notes to Emanuel.

LISA HOUCK: Trying to give them hope and courage and not to stay away from church, but to go to church and depend on the Lord to get through this difficult time.

ELLIOTT: Back in Charleston, as the service at Emanuel ended, hundreds of people, some from the central mosque, others dressed in Sunday's seersucker, walked from their home churches to come pay respects.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMAZING GRACE")

CHURCH CONGREGATION: (Singing) Through many dangers, toils and snares...

ELLIOTT: The message from all, stand with Mother Emanuel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMAZING GRACE")

CHURCH CONGREGATION: (Singing) The hour I first believed.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.