OAK CREEK, Wis. — Hundreds of people who gathered at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee spoke of unity, strength, and rebirth during the first Sunday service since a gunman killed six people before fatally shooting himself.
The service capped a weekend of events meant to honor the victims and restore the temple as a place of worship. Although there were tears and red eyes, many participants said healing was underway.
Visitors removed their shoes outside and filed past portraits of the victims, shuffling down a flower-lined aisle into the main prayer room. They dropped dollar bills in front of a shrine where their holy book sits and bowed for two to three seconds. Then they sat on the floor — women on the left, men on the right — their heads covered with scarves, and listened as a priest recited hymns.
Those at Sunday’s service included Sikhs from as far away as California and about 50 from Cleveland.
‘‘It’s an emotional day but it’s getting better,’’ said Justice Khalsa, 41, of Milwaukee, who visits the temple three or four days a week. ‘‘I’m smiling and laughing now, but once this group goes away and we’re back to our regular schedule, it will be haunting, I’m sure.’’
The proceedings began in the parking lot with a ‘‘nishan sahib,’’ a ceremony in which participants clean a Sikh flagpole to symbolize the temple’s rebirth. Women sang hymns as a group lowered the pole. About 50 people unwrapped a faded orange cloth that covered the pole, washed the pole with water and milk, and then rewrapped it with a darker orange cloth. The group then filed inside the temple for more prayers and hymns.