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Charleston Church Holds Emotional Services Days After Shootings


This morning, the doors at the historic black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., are open once again and a service is underway.


MARTIN: Elder John Gillison had this to say.


JOHN GILLISON: The world is still dark, Our Father, still full of sin, and we still need you, Jesus. We ask, oh, God, that you will guide and direct and strengthen those families who have been victimized by that horrible situation.

MARTIN: The congregation there 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 Cheryl Corley is this morning. She joins me now. Good morning, Cheryl.


MARTIN: People started arriving for the service early this morning. You spoke with some of them. What kind of thoughts did they share with you?

CORLEY: Well, people said they wanted to come really to show their support, and many just weren't surprised that the door - that the church had opened their doors just days after that, you know, really terrible shooting occurred here. And we have an overflow crowd outside here today standing to hear the sermon and the service as it continues; folks bringing is still bringing flowers to lay at the memorial's been going here. You know, when they started coming, everybody has been sort of subdued and respectful and just determined to be here. The day actually began with Sunday schools, so lots of people had brought their children here. And there's just been a steady stream of people who have been making their way up into the steps of this really majestic church that's here. I talked earlier to Natasha Shepard (ph) who said that there is so much emotion surrounding today's events. But again, people just want to be here; they want to support the members of this church, people who were closest to the victims who died here. And she said this day is just about God and faith and the people who died in the church. Here's Natasha.

NATASHA SHEPARD: I wanted to hear about the people who know the victims and what they were like, you know. I want to hear the stories about what they told them when they were alive. That's what I want to hear. I don't want to hear anything more about him because he's not important. He probably did this just to get the attention that he's gotten thus far, and don't want to give him that glory. We want to glorify and magnify the people that live the life of Christ and did - up until the very last moment did what they were supposed to do.

CORLEY: And that's Natasha Sephard of course saying she didn't want to hear anything about the shooter but just about the people who were part of this church who welcomed that shooter inside and who are now being memorialized today.

MARTIN: The service, as we mentioned, was led by elder John Gillison. What more can you tell us about the message that he had for his congregation today?

CORLEY: Well, he says that they still believe that prayer changes things and that it changes all of us. And he talked about Christ coming into a dark, sinful world and he's still needed. And he really just asked Christ to strengthen the families who have been victimized. And he says that those who have faith can hear Christ saying that he would help them and that he was with each of these families, with each of the nine who died here. And here's the elder.


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. Hallelujah.


GILLISON: That the devil cannot take control of your people. And the devil cannot take control of your church.

CORLEY: And that's the elder, and that's what a lot of people out here are saying today; that this is a community full of faith, and that's why they're here, and they are here to let people know that hate won't take over the city.

MARTIN: And, of course, the Mother Emanuel Church has been the focal of all the remembrances, but this is a tragedy that has affected the larger Charleston city community. Cheryl, can you talk about how - other ways that people are marking their remembrances today?

CORLEY: Well, as I mentioned, a lot of folks are still coming to the memorial, laying flowers, laying mementos down. Later today, residents plan to hold this unity chain. They'll be holding hands across an area bridge. They're hoping for about 3,000 people to show up for that. Every church here is doing something in some form of activity to show their unity. And they're going to be synchronizing - doing the synchronized bell ring out as well to show support for Emanuel AME.

MARTIN: NPR's Cheryl Corley. Thanks so much for talking with us, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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