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Boston AME Churchgoers Mourn Charleston Shooting04:24
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Allen Sanders, right, kneels next to his wife Georgette, both of McClellanville, S.C., as they pray at a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church Saturday. (David Goldman/AP)
Allen Sanders, right, kneels next to his wife Georgette, both of McClellanville, S.C., as they pray at a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church Saturday. (David Goldman/AP)
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At the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Jamaica Plain, the Rev. Sabrina Gray did not wait to address the thought on everyone's mind as she started the 8 a.m. service Sunday.

"Let's go back to Wednesday," she said to the crowd. A reference, of course, to the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine people dead -- from a 26-year-old man up to an 87-year-old woman.

Gray opened the service, but it was the Rev. Ray Hammond who delivered the sermon, also wasting little time addressing what everyone was thinking about.

"You see our door is open? You see our door is open? Our door is not closed! Our door is open!" he said.

He opened by saying the sermon he was about to deliver was one of the most difficult he'd ever had to write. On Father's Day, he likes to be uplifting, to praise men he says have taken up the "incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding" path of fatherhood.

"But I cannot shake the painful reality of what we've gone through this week in Charleston, South Carolina," he said. "I find myself at times just tearing up."

Rev. Hammond showed court footage of the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, in court, during which family members of those killed said, "I forgive you."

"I don't know that I have that much faith," Hammond said after a pause to murmurs of agreement in the crowd. "All I can pray is when the test comes, I can face the gunman and speak calmly. That when the test comes, I would be willing to take a bullet for my elders."

"It would be wrong to be spiteful, to lash out, to talk about any kind of revenge or retaliation, because that's not what God would want. You reap what you sow, and the only thing we can do is love."

Denisha Davis, a member of the Boston AME community

Many at the service said they're still confused about what happened.

Noah Johnston said he's not surprised by a mass shooting, but was surprised to learn the suspect spent an hour with members of the congregation before the attack.

"He sat with the people for about an hour. He had an hour to get to know them, know their personalities, who they are. It seems they're very nice people, and he still did what he did."

Hammond said it's possible we may never learn the answer to that question, and he said it certainly won't be the last time members of the community face adversity.

But, he said, it's also not the first time members of that church have struggled.

"[God will] remind them that the church was burned down one time, but they built it back up again. He'll remind them that an earthquake shook it for the second time, and they rebuilt it all over again. Our God is an awesome God!"

That's a sentiment echoed by churchgoers. Denisha Davis said the AME community, despite this act of hate, must be and will continue to be a loving environment.

"It would be wrong to close our doors," Davis said. "It would be wrong to be spiteful, to lash out, to talk about any kind of revenge or retaliation, because that's not what God would want. You reap what you sow, and the only thing we can do is love."

This segment aired on June 22, 2015.

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Jack Lepiarz is a reporter and anchor at WBUR.

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