Hundreds gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark early Sunday to mourn singer Whitney Houston, who began her public singing career as a member of the church's junior gospel choir at age 11.
Many said they were also there to show their support for the Houston family, including her mother, Cissy, who is an active member of the congregation.
"I heard her sing in this church, many times. It was awesome," said longtime parishioner Karen Winfield of West Orange, who referred to the singer's "impetuous smile."
Parishioner Daneen Grayson said Houston's battle against drug abuse "were her struggles, that was between her and God," a sentiment heard often this morning by worshipers filing past a gaggle of reporters into the church.
Sunday's 6:45 a.m. service was an opportunity for the New Hope community to mourn one of its own and to offer support for Houston's mother and other members of the family, who remain active with the century-old congregation.
"We ask for everyone to continue to lift up the Houston family with your prayers," Pastor Joseph Carter told reporters outside the church Sunday morning. "The family shared Whitney with the world but Whitney was a mother, daughter, sister, and that is the focus we want to maintain."
Carter also said he had "no word" on funeral arrangements.
Mourners left flowers in the metal railing of the fence outside the chrurch. A large crowd of reporters and TV crews were kept at a distance from the entrance. Reporters were not allowed inside for the service.
The public address system played a medley of the singer's hit songs.
Houston was found dead in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Saturday afternoon. She was 48.
The service at New Hope Baptist was dedicated to the Newark native, whose family later moved to East Orange after the 1967 Newark riots. Houston later owned a home in Mendham Township, where she and her family lived for many years.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker called Houston a "deep part our pride and collective heart."
"A legend has died. As the world mourns the loss of one of the all-time greats, we in Newark feel an especially deep sadness," he said in a written statement. "She will be missed. Our prayers are with her family."