Hundreds filled the pews of the historic church in Charleston, South Carolina.
"The doors of the church are open," declared the Rev. Norvel Goff during prayers. "No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God's church," he proclaimed.
They sang hymns, prayed and remembered the nine church members shot to death Wednesday night during Bible study.
One of the victims was the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. His seat behind the podium was shrouded in black cloth and uniformed police officers were present in the side aisles.
Overcoming evil with faith in God was a theme throughout the service.
"It's by faith that we are standing here and sitting here," Goff said. "It has been tough. It has been rough. Some of us have been downright angry. But through it all God has sustained us."
There was weeping throughout the service. People hugged each other as they looked for comfort and meaning in their grief.
"Lots of folks expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us," Goff said as the congregation stood and cheered.
'We're going to pursue justice'
Goff thanked the people of Charleston and South Carolina.
"We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out."
Right now, he said, the focus needs to be on the grieving families of the nine victims. "There is a time and place for everything," he said.
But Goff did call for action "Let's not get it twisted. We're going to pursue justice, we're going to be vigilant and we're going to hold our elected officials accountable to do the right thing," he said. "The blood of the Mother Emanuel Nine requires us to work until not only justice is served in this case, but for those who are still living on the margin of life."
Goff thanked Gov. Nikki Haley, who was present at the service, and everyone who sent condolences, brought flowers and made donations. He also thanked the FBI and local police.
"And finally I want to say thank you to law enforcement. I have no problem in doing that. I want to thank them," he said as a huge roar of applause erupted.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and the mayors of Charleston and North Charleston were also among the worshippers.