SAN ANTONIO – The midday service Friday at Bethel AME Church east of downtown, San Antonio's largest African Methodist Episcopal congregation, gave a grieving community a chance to heal.
Those in attendance were reminded of an old song, "If we ever needed the Lord, sure need Him now, right now."
Another favorite hymn spoke to their despair in the wake of Wednesday's church massacre in South Carolina. They sang, "When nothing else could help, love lifted me."
The Rev. Dr. Raymond Bryant urged those gathering from across the city to "Seek reconciliation, not revenge."
Bryant read a message from presiding Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie that said in part, "The spirit of vigilantism has been pushed, political extremism on every side. Enough is enough."
McKenzie oversees the 10th AME District, based in Dallas.
Ronnis Wilson, one of those attending the service, said he watched images of the shooting suspect, Dylann Roof, 21.
"I saw confusion. I saw demonic possession and I saw a lost young man," Wilson said.
Authorities have said Roof had hoped killing the respected pastor of America's oldest AME church and eight of its members would trigger a war between the races.
"We don't need a race war. That's the last thing this country needs, a race war," Wilson said.
Bryant said, "A lot of things we thought would be behind us by now, clearly they're not. So we still persevere."
Another pastor said it was sadly ironic the worst incident of racial violence since the civil rights era half a century ago occurred despite the U.S. having its first African-American president.
Sharon Grant, pastor of the Greater Ball Tabernacle AME Church, also noted Friday's service was on Juneteenth, when slaves gained their freedom after the Civil War.
"We find ourselves still as African-Americans are struggling to be free from perceptions, from stereotypes, that end up in a loss of life," Grant said.
Oliver Hill, president of the San Antonio chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the more things change, the more they remain the same.
"We just continue to wonder why there is still so much hatred in the world," Hill said.
"That is why it's important that we reach out to one another like we are today," said Scott Woodward, dean of the Oblate School of Theology, which is attended by AME students. "We have to."