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Charleston Church Shooting: Fear Mustn't Dull Churches' Mission, Pastors Say

Ministers of many faiths across America were intent Friday on getting out a clear message in response to the South Carolina church shooting.
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Ministers of many faiths across America were intent Friday on getting out a clear message in response to the South Carolina church shooting: Evil cannot, must not, win.

While the nine victims of the Charleston massacre were mourned, church and community leaders were determined to carry on.

It's more important than ever that vacation Bible school is still going ahead this week at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Punta Gorda, Florida, according to the Rev. Sharon Hobbs.

What happened at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston "could happen here," Hobbs, Bethel's pastor for four years, acknowledged. But, she told NBC station WBBH of Fort Myers: "We can't stop. We can't walk around afraid."

Related: Even Houses of Worship Aren't Immune From Violence

"We are in a society where evil will, time and again, try to set the agenda for a society, " the Rev. Frederick Wright, pastor of Quinn Chapel AME Church in Cincinnati, told NBC station WLWT. "But the people, at heart, are bigger than that. We're bigger and stronger than evil."

The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was due in court Friday accused of fatally shooting worshippers during Bible study on Wednesday night, ripping out a piece of South Carolina's civic heart and adding to the ever-growing list of America's racial casualties.

The Rev. Anthony Evans of the National Black Church Initiative said he planned to travel to Charleston to help churches learn to defend themselves.

He said the attack evoked "a point of deep moral frustration that cannot be explained." "At the same time, they want individuals such as myself as clergy to preach peace and coming together," he said. "They only want us to not let the people get out of hand, and I'm not willing to stand in front of that angry crowd anymore and tell them that their anger is the wrong emotion to feel."

Many pastors said they might need to bulk up security at their churches. The Rev. Kendrick Holiday, pastor of Safehaven Bible Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, told NBC station KPLC that perhaps churches should partner with local law enforcement.

"I think we have to be on guard," Holiday said, "but not so much so that we start turning people away based upon stereotypes.

"We can't get caught up in stereotyping people, because Jesus Christ still accepted everybody, and we have to do that, as well," he said.

Elder Tony Ratcliff, president of African-American Concerned Clergy in Erie, Pennsylvania, said the shootings — which police have labeled a hate crime — should remind congregations that all people are equal before God.

"We've heard the statement that Black Lives Matter," Ratcliff told NBC station WICU. "We're emphasizing that all lives matter."

Courteney Barnes-Anderson of Bristol, Virginia, has attended services at the Charleston church. She said the church's slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, would have wanted it that way.

"It may be a historically black church, but they welcome everybody," Barnes-Anderson told NBC station WCYB.

"For anybody to walk through their doors — white, Asian, whatever — they would always welcome them," she said. "This church has so much history and does so much for the community."

The Rev. Ben Wade, pastor of Tithe Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan, said the shootings were especially hard to take because of Emanuel AME's importance. Known as "Mother Emanuel," the Charleston church is one of the oldest AME churches in the U.S., founded by the second elder of the denomination.

The church was a leading actor in the Underground Railroad, shuttling slaves out of the South during the CIvil War, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. held several rallies there during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Related: Obama: Church Shooting 'Raises Questions About a Dark Part of Our History'

"Those who were killed join a long list of those who have given their lives to turn our nation's conscience inward," Wade told NBC station WILX.

"Our nation [must] draw closer together [so] that we benefit from the sacrifices that have been made, so we can seek love and justice and righteousness," he said. "That is what God's kingdom is really all about."

That's why he won't be increasing security at his church.

"I don't intend to put bars on the doors or cameras in the lobby," Wade said. "We come to worship. And Jesus told us the world would hate him and it's going to hate us. But the joy is he overcame the world."

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said the Charleston attack was a reminder that there's "racial tension, racial conflict and, in some places, racial hatred in this nation."

He added: "It just underscores the fact that we have a lot of work to do."