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In Charleston, A Day Of Faith And Recovery


Today was a day of faith and recovery in Charleston, S.C., as people gathered both in and outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the first church worship service at the historic black church since nine of its members lost their lives after a gunman allegedly opened fire on them after a Bible study session last week. Worshipers prayed in the sanctuary while others stood outside in the blistering heat. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: People began gathering early at the AME Church, better known to its congregation as Mother Emanuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All members - all members of Mother Emanuel, you all come with me. We're going to go in through the side door.

CORLEY: There were ushers directing parents with children coming for Sunday school, and there were adults like Natasha Shepard, who said the shooting had caused so much anguish in Charleston.

NATASHA SHEPARD: Oh, God, just a broken heart, and this is so much emotion that I've cried probably for three days. And I just had to be here to support the people who were closest to the victims.

CORLEY: Claudette Smith (ph) said, unlike others, wasn't ready to forgive the accused gunman and said she didn't want to go into the church for the service. Smith said she doesn't attend Emanuel, and it should be an opportunity for its members to heal.

CLAUDETTE SMITH: No, you can't move on from this. I live here, and I'm going to die here. No one can pass this church every day and not think about this. No way.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Gratefulness...

CORLEY: There was song and prayer as hundreds, including the mayor and governor, crowded into the sanctuaries as armed police stood watch. The minister's message about faith and the power of God, full of fervor, had people shouting and celebrating, but then the service turned solemn.


NORVEL GOFF: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Doctor Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton...

CORLEY: Rev. Norvel Goff read off the names of those victims, including Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who had been the leader of Mother Emmanuel, and Cynthia Herd, who would've celebrated a birthday today.

GOFF: We're reminded this morning about the freshness of death - comes like a thief in the night.


GOFF: But I declare that Jesus said it a long time ago. He said, I am the resurrection...


GOFF: ...And the life.

CORLEY: Goff would go on to thank everyone for their support and talked about the city's response to the tragedy.

GOFF: A lot of folk expected us to break out in a riot.


GOFF: Well, they just don't know us.


CORLEY: Outside, throughout the service, people continue to lay flowers on the memorial in front of the church. Jennifer Mendelsohn (ph), standing with her husband, said she knew that despite the horrific event that took place last Wednesday, Mother Emanuel would open.

JENNIFER MENDELSOHN: Oh, I knew they would do that (laughter). This is how the healing begins. This shouldn't become a monument. It really should be still a place of worship.

CORLEY: Mendelsohn and many of the others echoed the words of one victim's relative, saying there was no way they would let hate win. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.