Charleston Shooting Church Reopens For The First Time, As Rally Held Against Confederate Flag

The historic black church where nine people were gunned down in what was believed to have been a hate crime, has opened its doors for the first time since the massacre.

Worshippers attended the first service at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church on Sunday, less than a week since Dylann Roof, 21, allegedly opened fire on members of a bible study group there. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among the nine people who were killed.

The service started with a message of love, recovery and healing, before taking a more solemn turn when the names of the victims of were read out. As a measure of added security, police officers stood among the congregation.

Deborah Johnson prays in front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as she listens to a broadcast of the Sunday service

"We still believe that prayer changes things. Can I get a witness?" the Reverend Norvel Goff said. The congregated responded with a rousing "Yes".

Goff then added: "But prayer not only changes things, it changes us."

Events to show solidarity are planned throughout the city and beyond. At 10am, church bells rang out across Charleston, which is known as the “Holy City” because of its many churches.

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South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Mayor Joseph Riley attended 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.

"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 Erdos 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. The 29-year-old was planning on attending Sunday service in nearby Mount Pleasant.

Dylann Roof, flanked by two officers, appears via video link in court on Friday

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. And on Saturday, as authorities began investigating a website that contained a racist manifesto believed to have been written by Roof, hundreds of people gathered at South Carolina's state house in Columbia to urge lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from its grounds.

Prominent Republicans and Democrats have called for the flag to be taken down, including Mitt Romney. President Barack Obama said on Friday that the flag deserved to be in a museum, not flying in the state capital.

Reverend Ed Kosak, from the Unity Church of Charleston, said delivering his own Sunday morning 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.

"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."

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