The Church in Tragedy

Marysville_WAAround lunchtime on Friday, many of us in the Pacific Northwest–and the nation-at-large–paused from the usual course of our workday, interrupted by a tragic and far too common occurrence.  Reports flooded in of yet another shooting in one of our schools.  We who live near Seattle paid even closer attention, for the situation took place not “out there” somewhere, but in our very backyard.

By now the story is widely disseminated: a high school student in Marysville, Washington (about 45 minutes to an hour north of Seattle) begin shooting students during lunchtime.  In the end he took his own life, but not before fatally wounding two and leaving others in serious condition.  The tragedy is yet another in a growing list of episodes of school violence that continues to mar our society.  That is bad enough.  When it happens only 40 minutes from your front door, it is terrifying and heartbreaking all the more.

Watching the newsfeed at midday on Friday, I was struck by the professionalism of law enforcement and caution with which they were operating.  I watched video of students being shepherded away from danger.  I wondered what it would be like to live in their shoes.  I pondered the fear that must have been flowing through their minds.  As I did so, I realized that I’d have to teach a class called “Introduction to Youth Ministry” in less than an hour.  2014-10-25T024516Z_1_LYNXNPEA9O014_RTROPTP_2_USA-WASHINGTON-SHOOTING

Whatever lecture was planned for the day took a backseat as we prayed for the students, families, and community of Marysville.  We spent time talking together about our thoughts and reflections as people called to serve students.  What would we do?  How could we serve in a situation like this?  What does ministry look like in the face of such horror?

As we prayed, processed, and reflected, I shared a few thoughts with my students (now likely embellished by a few days’ reflection).  I reminded them that as ministers in communities affected by such tragedy, our presence with people is important.  As we are in that place our ability to listen is vital.  So often we pastors are talkers and fixers and doers.  Helpful at times, but in the face of chaos that is beyond our ability to repair, these tasks must take a backseat to helping people express their feelings and process their shock and grief.

It has been heartening to see an example of the faith community being present and serving the community in Marysville.  On the same day as the shooting, a vigil was held at The Grove Church, where many came together to sort through their pain, sorrow, and questions in the house of worship.  Even in our sometimes post-Christian America, the ability for our churches to function as places where people can have such space persists.  Over the weekend I saw a short video report from their pastor:

Of course, a little video and a candlelight vigil doesn’t change what has happened.  It doesn’t end the process of grief.  It doesn’t fix everything.  But it is a beginning.  Serving as the Grove Church and others are in their community can mean being with the people whom God loves and listening, questioning, praying, and crying with them.  As their local high school will remain closed all week, the church will be open as a place for students to come and seek safety, healing, and a listening ear.  In the face of a tragedy like this that reminds us there is so very much we cannot repair, I believe what they are doing represents an important Christian orientation.

In the ability that The Grove Church and others have to be a place for people to grieve, meditate, question, and hope, I am reminded of a profound moment from the Gospel of jesus_wept_featureJohn.  It takes place right in the midst of the story about Lazarus, who has died.  In a tiny little verse we are reminded that as our Lord confronted the reality of death and the emotional pain that it brings, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  Knowing that God weeps with us in our sorrow is of inestimable value to me in moments like these.  And knowing that His tears are not in vain can give us hope to look ahead.

May we pray for Marysville and its schools, families, churches, parents, and students as we continue to ask that “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

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