Sunday morning marked the first worship service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church since Dylann Roof, 21, sat among a Bible study group and opened fire after saying that he targeted them because they were black, authorities said. Among the nine killed was the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
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Events to show solidarity were planned throughout the city and beyond, including the synchronized ringing of church bells at 10 a.m. EDT. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and her family were to attend the service at Emanuel.
Despite grim circumstances the congregation has been faced with, the welcoming spirit Roof exploited before the shooting is still alive, church members said.
Harold Washington, 75, expected the sanctuary to host even more newcomers after one shattered the group's sense of peace and security.
"We're gonna have people come by that we've never seen before and will probably never see again, and that's OK," he said Saturday. "It's a church of the Lord, you don't turn nobody down."
Church leaders will try to address the heavy psychological burdens parishioners bring with them. An hour before the 9:30 a.m. EDT service, people lined up outside the church.
"I think just because of what people have gone through emotions are definitely heightened, not just in Charleston but with anyone going to church because it is such a sacred place, it is such a safe place," Shae Edros, 29, said after a multiracial group of women sang "Amazing Grace" outside the church Saturday afternoon.
"To have something like that completely shattered by such evil — I think it will be in the back of everyone's heads, really," Erdos said. Erdos was planning on attending Sunday service in nearby Mount Pleasant.
The suburb is connected to Charleston by the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, where people are expected to join hands in solidarity Sunday evening. The bridge's namesake is a former state lawmaker and a vocal Confederate flag supporter.
Roof had been photographed with the flag several times before the shooting.
Unity Church of Charleston the Rev. Ed Kosak said delivering Sunday morning's sermon would be emotionally taxing but he felt empowered by the strength and grace Emanuel members have shown — a demeanor he said has set the tone for religious leaders everywhere.
"I've gone into Sunday sermons before like when Virginia Tech happened, and when the Sikh shootings happened" Kosak said. The situation in Charleston may be harder to give a sermon on because it hits so close to home. But, Kosak said, "I am more ready than ever to speak to this tragedy in ways I didn't think I could before."
For the family of Cynthia Hurd, Sunday's service will be especially poignant. Hurd, a longtime librarian, would have been celebrating her 55th birthday and was planning a trip to Virginia with her siblings.
"Sunday will not be a sad day for me; it will be a celebration for me. It will be a celebration for our family because our faith is being tested," Hurd's younger brother Malcolm Graham said Friday.
"She was in the company of God trying to help somebody out. She was where she needed to be."
Felicia Breeland, an 81-year-old lifelong Emanuel member, said she sang in the choir with Susie Jackson, 87, who was also fatally shot Wednesday.
"It's going to be sad. She sits right on the front row, too," Breeland said. "She had a very soft soprano voice. It was beautiful."
Washington said he expected a tearful, emotionally charged gathering.
"I hope we'll be much stronger. I think we will because it brings people together. For how long? I'm not sure. But at least for right now we're very well galvanized," he said. "We didn't miss a Sunday."