Saturday August 31 is a day Odessans and Midlanders will never forget. It was the start of Labor Day weekend, and a ‘routine’ traffic stop on I-20 turned into a nightmare scenario. By the end of the day, more than 20 people had been shot and 7 people had been killed.
Like many Odessans and Midlanders, I watched the local and national news in horror. Like many local pastors, I found myself wondering if anyone would show up to church the following morning. If they did, what were we supposed to do? What was I supposed to say?
I don’t have a one-sized-fits-all answer for what you do at church the Sunday after a mass shooting (or, for that matter, the Sunday after any sort of tragedy). I do know what happened at Immanuel, and I know yesterday will go down as one of the most moving worship services I’ve ever attended.
Here’s what we did the Sunday after a mass shooting rocked our community.
- Go. I totally understand the impulse to stay home, and I am not criticizing those who took a Sunday “off.” People across Odessa and Midland were affected in different ways, and for some staying home may have been the right thing to do. However, “going” to church was important for me. Yes, we had extra security precautions in place. Yes, we rearranged parts of the service. But the simple act of going to church was important. The routine of corporate worship was deeply encouraging, and I’ve never been so glad to see my church members show up for worship.
- Pray. We always pray when we gather together at Immanuel. But yesterday was different. Yesterday we opened with a time of focused prayer for our community. We prayed for the victims. We prayed for our first responders. We prayed for unity in the midst of suffering. We prayed for God to bring something good out of something horrific. There was no bravado. No chest pounding. No self-sufficiency. Just brokenness and dependence and neediness expressed in heartfelt prayer.
- Worship. Singing is a weekly part of our corporate worship. Regularly I find myself stirred and refocused as the people of God sing to and about their God. Spiritually, it is good to sing about things that are true, and it is good to listen to the people of God express their faith through song. All of these things were particularly powerful yesterday. The “crowd” was a bit smaller than normal because of the holiday weekend, but the voices were as loud as I ever remember. The act of singing with brothers and sisters was incredibly uplifting.
- Listen. At the beginning of the service I shared a few thoughts about the reality of evil and the character of God. We listened to the psalmist extol the Lord as his Shepherd as we read Psalm 23. We pressed on in our normal Sunday sermon series. Working through the gospel of John, we talked about Jesus walking on the water while the disciples struggled to reach the shore. We were reminded that Jesus is the great I AM, the Creator, and the Savior. No one had or needed a “special word from the Lord.” We just had the Bible, and the Bible was enough.