CHARLESTON, S.C. —
Charleston's Emanuel AME Church held its first worship service Sunday since a white gunman killed nine black people at Bible study group at the historic African American church last week.
Sunday's service started after Sunday School resumed at the South Carolina church.
People lined up to enter Emanuel AME, and crowds gathered outside applauded as the service began.
Inside the church, visitors from Charleston and as far away as California sat in sections on the sides of the building. The center section filled with members of the church, who were more solemn, and hugged each other as they offered signs of support.
"We pray that God will strengthen us where we are weak. Bring us up, where we are torn down," said the prayer leader at the church.
"The blood of the Mother Emanuel 9 requires us to work until not only justice in this case, but for those who are still living in the margin of life" Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff, Sr. told the service, adding "that we stay on the battlefield until there is no more fight to be fought."
Short video of an impromptu singing group outside Emanuel AME
During the service, volunteers handed out water bottles and fans, as the temperature inside the building soared in the summer heat. Two people had to be given medical assistance.
A member of the Macedonia E Church in Charleston Gail Lincoln, told VOA her church has a lot of interaction with Emanuel AME and that she knew some of the people who were killed last week. She said she came to the service Sunday to show her support.
Also Sunday morning, churches across Charleston rang their bells in unison as a show of solidarity before prayer gatherings in the city. Later Sunday, thousands of people joined hands across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that connects downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant in another show of unity.
Saturday rallies, marches
Rallies and gatherings were held Saturday in Charleston and around the United States as people gathered to remember and pay respects to those affected by the shooting deaths in the church last Wednesday night.
In Charleston, crowds gathered in several areas of the city, and marchers dressed in black and mourning clothes after a day a reflection outside the historic church.
Pastor Dimas Salaberrios of New York's Infinity Bible Church told mourners in Charleston it was vital to transcend racial animosity.
In New York, congregants gathered at one of the country's largest AME churches for a morning prayer service, followed by a march and rally. Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Yes, it was terrorism, terrorism based on racism; but, that does not negate the fact that we have a gun problem in this country.”
In Detroit, the local chapter of Reverend Al Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, held an interfaith gathering in response to the Charleston shooting. An interracial prayer service will also take place in Atlanta, a key city in the U.S. civil rights movement.
Roof charged with nine counts of murder
The suspect in the mass shooting, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is being held in the Charleston County jail. A website registered in his name showed dozens of photos of Roof holding a Confederate flag and burning an American flag surfaced Saturday, along with racist writings.
He is charged with nine counts of murder and one count of criminal possession of a firearm. A judge in Charleston set bail of $1 million for Roof on the firearms charge but said he did not have the authority to set bail on the nine counts of murder.
In San Francisco Saturday, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called for more gun control in the wake of the deadly church shooting.
"This generation will not be shackled by fear and hate," she told the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I am not and will not be afraid to keep fighting for common sense reforms," she said.
Have to 'fix this'
A day earlier, at the same meeting in San Francisco, President Obama spoke for the first time about race in relation to the shootings. He said, "The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight we have to combat together."
Obama said he is not willing to accept that regular mass shootings are "the new normal" in the U.S., but he doubts Congress will move to change gun laws because of the influence the National Rifle Association wields with the lawmakers.
Calling for a change in attitudes, he said, "We have to have a conversation about this and fix this." The president said it is not good enough to "show sympathy."
At Mother Emanuel
Since the shootings, spontaneous prayer services and gatherings have been held outside Emanuel AME as Charleston residents, visitors and dignitaries reflect on the violence. The memorial for the victims has grown outside Mother Emanuel, as the church is affectionately known. People brought flowers, balloons and placards in remembrance of the victims.
The shooting marks one of the most notorious attacks on a black church in the South since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls and helped galvanize the U.S. civil rights movement. The bombing was tied to the Ku Klux Klan.
Emanuel AME Church was founded in 1816 after splitting from the city's white Methodist Episcopal church, making it one of the oldest African-American congregations in the southern United States.