Once again, the nation watches with horror as the results of another mass shooting are reported, and once again, the scene of the crime is a church.
My heart breaks for the members and friends of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church and for their neighbors in their Texas community this morning. The events of yesterday remind me how quickly one may go from feeling as if one is on top of the world to feeling the weight of the world’s suffering.
For example, I left yesterday’s worship service feeling that this service was among the most vibrant ones in which I have participated at St. James. The children’s contributions to the celebration thrilled me more than the fact that the sanctuary was so full that even the second row was filled (although I definitely give thanks for great attendance).
I am glad to be part of a church where children ask for Bibles, and the congregation delivers. I also am glad that the church’s educational ministry allows me to talk theology with 4th graders on Thursday afternoons and that this theology opens up the Word of God in ways that enriches the worship life of the congregation both in Conversations with Children and in sermon illustrations (I doubt that any of us will ever think of cheese puffs in the same way again, right?).
Soon after yesterday’s service, however, the story coming out of greater San Antonio broke, and focus shifted. The statistics are harrowing. Twenty-six people were murdered in a church. The youngest person who died was only five years-old, and the pastor’s daughter, who was only thirteen, was lost, too.
I don’t pretend to understand why these things happen, but I trust that God will bring good things out of bad situations, because in Scripture and in my experience, God always does.
Honestly, I do not find much comfort in the fact that these people died while at church, because, in my opinion, church should be a safe place in every imaginable way, and the minimum requirement in this regard is that people feel confident that, when they walk into a worship service, they will come out alive.
I am praying for the people who are most deeply affected by these acts of violence, and I will continue to strive for understanding as more information about this situation is revealed. Still, I confess that I feel that prayer is not enough. I want to do more to comfort people in their sorrow, and I have a deep desire to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
Given that the people who are suffering the effects of this trauma are in Texas and I am in Pennsylvania, prayer may be the best thing that I can do to help them this morning. Meanwhile, I can do what I can do to be sure that the church that I serve is a safe place for God’s children to worship Sunday after Sunday.
For in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the laughter of the next generation of Christians, our hope is found, and midst death’s silence, we hold fast to God’s promise of resurrection.