CHARLESTON, S.C. — Members of “Mother” Emanuel AME Church and curious mourners started gathering as early as 6 a.m. to get into the historic building for the first time since nine people were slain during Bible study Wednesday night.
By 8:30 a.m., church officials began letting people in. First to enter were church members, who sat in the center aisles. Guests were then allowed in.
Police monitored entry and no bags or water bottles were allowed in. Police officers stood guard inside.
It was silent inside the sanctuary. Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum sat quietly five rows from the back.
The first strains of the ancient church’s organ started at 8:49 a.m., with “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Ushers handed out church fans. Social and social media activist Deray McKesson, who has been vocal in Ferguson and Baltimore, coincidentally sat next to Santorum.
At 9:17 a.m., ministers took their places on the pulpit. Long-time mayor Joseph Riley and Gov. Nikki Haley took seats along the front row.
The Rev. Norvel Goff Sr., presiding elder of the Edisto District, who stood in for slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney, began his sermon nearly two hours later. He said that God and Mother Emanuel were “refuges.”
“We were pleased when authorities called us and said you can go back to Mother Emanuel and worship,” Goff said. “Some might need more time. But for those of you who are here, being open on this Sunday sends a message to every demon in Hell and on Earth that while somebody wanted to divide the races, no weapon formed against us shall prosper.”