Bible study goes on one week after shooting, with theme of "The Power of Love"
The body of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, is on public view at State House
South Carolina lawmakers are grappling with removal of Confederate flag in Columbia
Just one week after a gunman killed nine people during Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, worshippers gathered once more in the same room where the bullets flew.
“This territory belongs to God,” Interim Pastor Norvel Goff Sr. told the roughly 150 people gathered for the resumption of weekly Bible study in the basement of the church they lovingly call Mother Emanuel.
This week’s theme, fittingly, was “The Power of Love.”
Some believe it took an incredible amount of love and faith for family members and loved ones of those killed to publicly declare their forgiveness of 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
He sat through the class for an hour with his victims before declaring he was there “to kill black people” and opening fire. Roof, who has admitted to the killings, has been charged with nine counts of murder. Additionally, the Department of Justice is likely to pursue federal hate crime charges against him, law enforcement officials told CNN.
Inside the room, beige tile floors and a low suspended ceiling showed telltale signs of the horror that unfolded. One of the ceiling tiles was missing. A number of others were new and in one was a bullet hole taped over with the number H-17, a police ID.
“Bible study will continue,” Goff told the crowd, “but because of what happened, we will never be the same.”
’That’s alright. I’ve got the nine’
Noting it was not really a normal Bible study because of the “tragic, horrific, event” that occurred there, Goff began to talk about the lessons of love. As he talked, people shouted back “hallelujah,” “yes sir,” “amen” and “come on” in the call and response typical of many black churches.
“Last week,” Goff said, “dark powers came over Mother Emanuel. But, that’s alright. God in his infinite wisdom said ‘that’s alright. I’ve got the nine.’ “
An armed Charleston police officer kept watch over the meeting. The scent of fresh flowers lingered in the air. An arrangement of white mums and other flowers sat in the center of a round table near the front of the room. A banquet table in the back was overflowing with floral displays of all kinds in tribute to those who died.
Dressed in all black, a string trio – two violins and a cello – played the songs “Simple Gifts” and “Be Thou My Vison.” The trio members are all current or former members of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, including violinist and Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker.
Goff sought to put people at ease, asking them to move from the back of the room to the front and promising “not to take up a collection.”
Goff touched on many common themes and encouraged those in the room not to run from trouble but to “run to God.”
The family of Myra Thompson, one of the shooting victims, entered the room about half way through the meeting. There were nine of them in all and they were seated in the front.
They listened intently as Goff talked about transformation and forgiveness, saying “God is with us, with you and God gives us the ability to let it go.” He referred to the hatred displayed last week declaring, “We are better than that.”
Comforting the mourners, Goff promised, “This is not the end. We will see our loved ones again.” And, while acknowledging that many hearts are broken, he said God can heal them all.
As he rose to conclude the service, Goff sang the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.”
Healing will continue this week, as two of the victims will be buried Thursday: the Rev. Sharonda Singleton and Ethel Lee Lance. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, will be buried Friday.
A flag and a body
A week after the killing of the African-American pastor and state senator by a man who had posed in photos with the flag as a symbol of white supremacy, Pinckney’s legislative colleagues are still grappling with whether to take it down.
Hundreds have demonstrated at the State House in Columbia to have the Confederate flag removed immediately. On Tuesday, lawmakers took a step in that direction.
Only 10 members of the S.C. House of Representatives voted against a motion to open up a debate on whether to remove the flag from a war memorial located yards from the State House’s doors.
Critics: Do it now
A law protecting it and other Civil War symbols requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in each chamber of the legislature to take it down. But critics say it could go much faster if lawmakers would just strike down that law with a simple majority vote.
Meanwhile in Alabama, all four Confederate flags at the Confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds in Montgomery were removed Wednesday morning on the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, according to press secretary Yasamie August. The governor said he didn’t want the flags to become a distraction to legislative matters. August said the move will be permanent.
In Charleston, with fears that outside protesters could descend there, the City Council acted quickly, unanimously passing a special resolution to establish guidelines for demonstrations.
Demonstrators will have to stay at least 300 feet away from any church, synagogue, funeral home, cemetery or family home, said council member Kathleen Wilson.
She and others on the council have heard that far-right protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas may be among those visiting town.
CNN’s Don Melvin, Ben Brumfield, Ralph Ellis and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.