As choir rehearsal ended in a Dix Hills church Thursday night, a parishioner asked the pastor to say a prayer for the victims of the South Carolina shooting.
"Lord, when we gather, we don't see color, we see Jesus. We are one people," said the pastor, John Scaduto, joined by at least a dozen members of the Upper Room Christian World Center choir.
Scaduto, 65, added these words: "I pray that the church will rise up and be a testimony."StoryLI family with ties to S.C. church 'devastated'EditorialEditorial: Is this truly who we are? A nation torn?StoryNYPD beefs up patrols at black churches
In an interview afterward, he said news of the slayings left him stunned and saddened -- and lamented that such killings are becoming more common.
A prominent minister and eight other people were fatally shot late Wednesday at a historic black church in Charleston. The alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, 21, declared his hatred for black people before opening fire on the Bible study group, law enforcement officials said.
"It's horrific that people are in such a condition that they could do something like that," said Scaduto, the church's pastor of music ministry. "We're living in a new day. . . . This is unchartered waters, where you never had to think about going to church and wondering if it was a safe place. It's always been a safe place."
Scaduto said churches are paying more attention to security than before, but "we're not hysterical."
"We welcome everybody," he said of the 3,000-member church on Deer Park Road. "We want everybody to have a chance to hear the Gospel."