Most of you have read about the tragic events that took place in the St. Louis community of Kirkwood, Missouri. A gunman shot two police officers, several city council members and city staff, and the mayor. Before the bloodshed ended, six persons were dead, and several others seriously wounded.
While reading about the continuing story on-line, I noticed that several of the quotes were from people attending a community Memorial Service at Kirkwood United Methodist Church. There were many photos from the service of mourners and friends and members of the community coming together to show concern and express grief and offer hope. I called the pastor, Rev. David Bennett, to express our prayers and concerns, and to offer a word of appreciation to him and the Kirkwood congregation for taking the initiative to reach out to the community in the aftermath of the violence.
David shared with me about how his congregation came to offer this special service. In the first evening as word was shocking people across the community, David and his staff realized the community needed a focal point gathering to pray, to see each otherís faces, to grieve, and to lift up the unifying and hopeful elements of community that hold people together during such moments of crises. He told me about how the church members, the staff, and so many others moved into high gear to prepare the building and the service and to open the doors to everyone in the community. He said something that stuck with me. ìWe realized thatís part of why we are hereÖto reach out to the community and to allow God to bind people together in times like this.î No one from the Kirkwood congregation were among the dead or injured, but the church saw that the community was wounded, and so they offered a healing ministry that involved civic and denominational leaders and friends from across the community. More than six hundred people attended the service that took place within forty-eight hours of the tragedy.
I pray no pastor or congregational leader who is reading this will ever have to face what the pastors and leaders of Kirkwood United Methodist Church have had to deal with.
However, I also hope and pray that every single United Methodist Church is prepared to respond as generously and as effectively should tragedy strike near to home. The outward focus, the unselfish offering of the facility and staff and volunteers, and the awareness that the church exists, not just to meet the personal spiritual needs of its own members, but to shape and support and reconcile communities – these elements should characterize every one of our congregations of every size in every corner of our connection. Kirkwood United Methodist Church, in the shadow of one of the most threatening and tragic events in the communityís history, exhibited a powerful convergence of the practices of hospitality, worship, service and generosity that went the second mile and exceeded ordinary expectations, and I give God thanks for their witness.
We never know when ordinary churches will be called to extraordinary response. Violence, natural disaster, fire, national or international crises can touch the community life of any of cities and towns and counties. I pray that in all our everyday practices we are developing the spiritual resources and vision to offer ourselves fully and faithfully to the glory of God when the unexpected happens around us.
Grace and Peace,