CHARLESTON, South Carolina (AP) -- Four days after it welcomed a young stranger who sat for prayer and then allegedly opened fire, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church held its first worship service with themes of love and healing, plus a note of defiance.
"Some folks might need some more time in order to walk in," said the Rev. Norvel Goff, who was appointed to lead the historic black Charleston church after Emanuel's senior pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was fatally shot along with eight others during a Bible study group.
"But for those of us who are here this morning ... because the doors of Mother Emanuel are open on this Sunday, it sends a message to every demon in hell and on earth."
The church's air conditioning did little to fight the heat of extra bodies in the sanctuary. Many stood, some holding small children, to shout their praises.
Police officers stood watch over the worshippers at one of the oldest black congregations in the U.S. South. Some congregation members stood to applaud when Goff thanked law enforcement for their response to the shooting, which once again called up deep questions about race, and guns, in America.
A 21-year-old white suspect, Dylann Roof, faces murder charges.
A black sheet was draped over Pinckney's usual chair, which sat empty. At least one parishioner kneeled down in front of it and prayed.
Goff acknowledged it was Father's Day and said: "The only way evil can triumph is for good folks to sit down and do nothing."
Later Sunday, thousands of people gathered on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to join hands in solidarity. The bridge's namesake is a former state lawmaker and a vocal supporter of the Confederate flag carried by pro-slavery, secessionist forces in the American Civil War.
The shootings have renewed calls for the flag to be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. Photographs of Roof, along with a purported hate-filled manifesto online, showed him holding Confederate flags.
Less than two miles (three kilometers) from the church, someone vandalized a Confederate monument, spray-painting "Black Lives Matter" on the statue. The slogan emerged during protests over police killings of unarmed black men in several U.S. cities over the past year.
City workers used a tarp to cover up the graffiti, police said.
Photos on local news websites from before the tarp was put up showed the graffiti in bright red paint, along with the message "This is the problem. # RACIST."
Around the country, pastors asked people to pray for Charleston.
In a sign of resilience, the church's Wednesday night Bible study is expected to continue as normal next week, said Emanuel member Harold Washington, 75.
"We didn't change a thing," he said.
Associated Press contributors include David Goldman, Emily Masters, Allen Breed, Josh Replogle and John Mone.