The Chapel Hill community mourned and commemorated the lives of the victims earlier this month with a prayer vigil that was hosted at the church.
“We are part of the AME connection,” said John Ponder, a member of the congregation at St. Paul. “Emanuel is a sister church; it’s part of the family.”
Many new faces arrived at the Sunday service to stand in solidarity, Ponder said.
“The intent of the prayer vigil was to make it very diverse, to make it look like Chapel Hill — people of different races and faiths ... coming together honor these lives,” said the Rev. Thomas Nixon.
Nixon said he was a personal friend of Clementa Pinckney: a South Carolina senator, a reverend at Emanuel AME and one of the nine victims of the shooting.
“The diversity made a larger statement — that we will not be intimidated by this act,” he said.
Perry said the church will still practice tolerance and maintain its values.
“We will still be welcoming,” she said. “We will not let this change who we are as a church family.”
Despite not allowing the tragedy to alter the welcoming atmosphere of St. Paul, it is evident that other sources of change are necessary, Nixon said.
“Once the media is gone, the biggest impact on places of worship is that we will have to be more cautious and vigilant,” he said. “My prayer is that we don’t become so paranoid and that we don’t discontinue being a place of ministry for all people.”
Perry said she thinks people need to look into the societal conditions that create a person who is capable of committing an act like the Charleston shooting .
“This does not need to just be a conversation but an ongoing dialogue about race where we examine the history which has divided us,” she said. “What is race? Why are we so concerned with it? What have we been doing to change that, so we can live in world where all people are honored and free?”
Ponder said it is important to keep focusing on the people who lost their lives in Charleston.
“We need to keep this in motion,” he said. “Let people continue to be aware and be in focus. Try to remember these people, their loved ones and their city.”