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Historic Charleston Church Holds Emotional Sunday Service Days After Deadly Shooting

The service took place hours after demonstrators marched on South Carolina's State House demanding that the Confederate flag be taken down.
June 21, 2015, 3:25pm
Photo via David Goldman/AP

Just days after a gunman shot and killed nine people at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME Church, supporters of the church and the victims' family members attended an emotional Sunday service.

"We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?" Reverend Norvel Goff said. "But prayer not only changes things, it changes us."

As the emotionally-charged Sunday service started, a crowd of supporters remained outside listening and applauding as the service was piped through speakers. Bouquets of flowers and balloons were placed at the front of the church in memory of those killed during the attack.

One of those leading the service was Revered Ed Kosak of the Unity Church of Charleston. Emanuel AME's Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator, was killed in the shooting on Wednesday night.

Related: Judge Who Called Dylann Roof's Family 'Victims' Previously Made Racist Remark in Court

Service underway not only inside Emanuel AME, but outside as well — Philip Weiss (@PhilipDWeiss)June 21, 2015

"I've gone into Sunday sermons before like when Virginia Tech happened, and when the Sikh shootings happened" Kosak told the Associated Press. "The situation in Charleston may be harder to give a sermon on because it hits so close to home."

The Emanuel AME Church traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church. The church was burned to the ground after co-founder Denmark Vesey tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

Dylann Roof, 21, has been charged with all nine murders and could face the death penalty for the attack, which is currently being investigated as a hate crime, according to authorities.

Congregation is now singing. — Rajini Vaidyanathan (@rajiniv)June 21, 2015

Church member Harold Washington, 75, told the AP he expected to see a large crowd on Sunday despite the recent violence.

"We're gonna have people come by that we've never seen before and will probably never see again, and that's okay," he told the AP. "It's a church of the Lord, you don't turn nobody down."

Among those scheduled to be attendance was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who planned to attend the service with her family. She urged churches across the state to chime their bells at 10am to show support for the Emanuel AME Church.

"I urge all churches in SC who feel so compelled to join them tomorrow. Let the sounds of love, compassion, and forgiveness ring across our state," Haley said in a statement.

Related: Calls to Remove Confederate Flag Follow South Carolina Murders

Panoramic pic. of what inside looks. Floor level appears to be full. Top still open. — Karina Bolster (@KRBolster)June 21, 2015

The service took place hours after demonstrators marched on South Carolina's State House demanding that the Confederate flag be taken down.

Calls for the flag's removal have intensified after pictures of Roof surfaced holding the confederate flag and wearing a jacket with the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), symbols used by white supremacists. Roof allegedly made racist comments during the attack, and law enforcement officials are now reportedly investigating a website that includes a hate-filled manifesto purportedly written by Roof.

Related: Website Surfaces With Disturbing Photos and Manifesto Purportedly Written by Dylann Roof

Sign says: 'Southerners on new ground — Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip)June 20, 2015

On Saturday, hundreds gathered to protest the flag, which has remained at full height while others are flown at half-mast. In video from the scene, hundreds of protesters could be heard chanting, "Take it down!"

The flag is protected under the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act, and a state press secretary told local reporters that only a general assembly can order the flag be lowered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Gillian Mohney on Twitter: @gillianmohney