Community grieves, gathers for prayers in wake of tragedy

People hold hands during a prayer vigil at Redemption Point Church on Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The vigil followed a shooting at both the Lee Highway Armed Forces Career Center and the Naval Operational Support Center on Amnicola Highway which left five dead, including the shooter, and a Chattanooga police officer wounded.

While the FBI raided a suburban home and Amnicola Highway employees waited, trapped by police activity, and victims' families huddled in the emergency room, a city was gathering to grieve.

In small, neighborhood churches, in arena-style sanctuaries, in ornate and intimate Catholic services, Chattanoogans, from all walks of life, stopped to pray for the families of those killed Thursday and to try to glean some meaning out of the tragedy that unfolded so unexpectedly.

Prayer vigils

* At UTC, the Student Veterans Organization is holding a vigil on campus at 9 a.m. today at the Fifth Street flagpole, open to all the public. * The Bessie Smith Cultural Center will be hosting a prayer vigil on the lawn of the center today at 5:30 p.m. to pray for the City of Chattanooga. * Olivet Baptist Church will have an interfaith prayer vigil at 5:30 p.m.

Today's coverage

* DesJarlais plans bill allowing qualified military personnel to carry sidearms at military installations * Nightmare for our city: Federal investigation vowed after four Marines killed * Who was Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez? * Timeline of terror in Chattanooga shootings * Cook: On a normal Thursday morning, everything changed * Tragedy will not define us, our city will heal * Shooting shatter's city's sense of innocence

Thursday's coverage

* Live updates * Sympathy for victims pours in following Chattanooga shootings * What we know about the shooter * Latest national updates on Chattanooga * Eyewitnesses recount moments of tragedy

"Even in our pain," said Devon Goins, worship leader at Metro Tabernacle to a group of almost 100. "Even in our brokenness. Nothing shakes Him. Nothing takes Him by surprise."

The sanctuary seemed, for many, to be an escape from the chaos and the headlines. Hands were raised as worship music played from the stage.

Joy comes in the morning When the oceans rage I don't have to be afraid Your love never fails.

Metro Tabernacle on Shepherd Road, Abba's House in Hixson, Redemption Point in Highland Park, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church downtown and Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in East Brainerd were among many churches who opened their doors Thursday to anyone who wanted to come.

Charles Holloway, a Chattanooga resident, said he came to church that day because he believed in prayer.

"We have to pray for our enemies," he said. "You hear about terrorism in big cities, but in a small city like Chattanooga it's very surprising. Most people believed it couldn't happen here."

In his message, Steve Ball, the pastor at Metro Tabernacle, offered a double-sided message to his congregation: don't be afraid, but don't be complacent.

Tragedies are terrible, but they can also force a community to wake up to the fact that we are living in dark days, he said. All across the country communities are experiencing the fruit of hate - mass shootings, murder, riots.

"We sit here in our recliners and we see this happening across the nation, and we say 'that's over there,'" he said.

But now, he said, we are living it.

"We put down our differences. We unite. We come through," he said. "We will not be overcome by this."

Metro Tabernacle has a racially mixed congregation, about 50 percent of whom are black. After a white man walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C. a month ago today and killed nine members of that church's body, the very young grandchildren of a Metro Tabernacle member were afraid to return to service the following week.

Because these are different days, said Ball. Days when congregations like his post guards at the door.

Days when four members of the United States armed services are gunned down on Chattanooga soil.

"We don't tolerate wrongs," Ball said. "And this is wrong."

The pain will set in - probably the day after the shooting, he said.

"Certainly we grieve, and I don't think there's a timeframe on that grief," he said.

During Thursday night's service, a clip from a 1985 Memorial Day speech given by then-President Ronald Reagan played.

"Sometime back," said Reagan, "I received in the name of our country the bodies of four Marines who had died while on active duty."

It is a debt which can't be repaid, Reagan continued. It carries "a special sadness" because "we are never quite good enough to them."

"When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers," said Reagan. "They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for their country, and for us. And all we can do is remember."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree or 423-757-6480.

Live Blog Minute-by-minute coverage of the Chattanooga shooting