By Loretta Fulton
Pastors, bishops and people in the pews expressed sorrow and support for their fellow Christians Monday after a gunman walked into a church in a small South Texas community Sunday morning and opened fire, killing 26 and wounding 20 others.
Worshipers had gathered at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, when a man dressed in black, wearing a tactical vest, and carrying an assault rifle, opened fire.
On Monday, Nov. 6, a day after the unspeakable horror, people of faith shared the grief of their fellow believers in Sutherland Springs. Following are comments from Jim McDonald, president of the Abilene Association of Congregations, Jacob Snowden, president of the Abilene Interfaith Council, Josh Stewart, a Fort Worth pastor and son of Cliff Stewart, pastor of Abilene’s First Central Presbyterian Church, and from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
JIM McDONALD, PRESIDENT, ABILENE ASSOCIATION OF CONGREGATIONS
The Abilene Association of Congregations (AAC) wishes to extend our deep condolences to the community of Sutherland Springs, the town of approximately 400, located southeast of San Antonio and specifically to the Baptist Church there. This tragedy is a grave incident that elicits Christian empathy. We are in this town’s and the Baptist congregation’s corner praying for comfort and understanding as they endure this terrible time. We are corporately carrying this burden to our Father asking the Holy Spirit for comfort and understanding for those suffering in this incident. We also pray for the family of the 26 year old gunman. We encourage everyone to join this prayer effort.
JACOB SNOWDEN, PRESIDENT, ABILENE INTERFAITH COUNCIL
Snowden began the monthly meeting of the Abilene Interfaith Council with a reference to Sunday’s deadly shooting at a small church in Sutherland Springs. The council ‘s motto is, “Breaking Bread Together in Peace.” The council meets monthly at various places in town, drawing people from a variety of faiths for a meal and conversation.
“This is the weapon we use to promote peace,” said Snowden, director of Christian education at First Central Presbyterian Church.
CLIFF STEWART, PASTOR, FIRST CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
After the recent Las Vegas shooting, my son, Josh, posted this in his church newsletter. I am bringing it to your attention today in light of the horrific shooting in a church in South Texas Nov. 5.
Jürgen Moltmann is a brilliant theologian who would urge us to consider that the “Why” question is not the best question to ask. Instead, Moltmann would say that the “Where” question is more important to ask. Where is God in this tragedy? Where is God when human beings shoot, kill, and injure other human beings? Moltmann believes that the center of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ dying on the cross. In other words: within this horrific crucifixion, Moltmann says that God is being fully revealed. This might not seem radical to you at first, but this IS a radical claim. The implications of such a claim are widespread and far-ranging. It means that even in the worst of times, God is right there with us. God suffers with us even in our darkest hours, even when the unthinkable happens.
We. Are. Never. Alone.
God is not a distant and disinterested divine being who lives far, far away. God is not separated from this broken world and our broken lives because God freely chose to be revealed to this world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is with us…even in the darkest shadows. Therefore, we cling to our suffering God who promises to be right there with us, to hold us and love us through thick and thin. Even when everything thing feels wrong, we can trust and lean on God with all our hearts.
How do we make sense of it all? Well, forgive the way it sounds, but God’s heavenly plan doesn’t always make earthly sense. What better answer do we have for events that defy explanation? I can only admit that I don’t know how the puzzle pieces of this thing called life get put together.
How about this – ‘our job is to trust instead of trying to make everything fit’?
Keep the people of Sutherland Springs in your prayers. I am.
DAVID HARDAGE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS BAPTISTS
On behalf of our entire Texas Baptists family, I extend my deepest condolences to the church family of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the community, and all who lost loved ones during (the Nov. 5) tragedy. We join others in prayer, and trust that whatever happens, the Lord is our salvation and our stronghold.
SCOTT MAYER, BISHOP, EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF NORTHWEST TEXAS
Words fail to express the grief and horror over the stunning loss of life Nov. 6 in a small town in southern Texas. While Episcopalians and other Texans across our state were at prayer (Sunday) morning, a gunman walked into a Baptist church in the tiny Texas town of Sutherland Springs and opened fire, killing 26 people ranging in age from 5 to 72. Mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters. Friends and co-workers.
This happened in a town of less than 600 residents. This means that everyone knows everyone and probably is related to half the town. Tiny towns like Sutherland Springs are all over Texas. And the heart of these towns are their schools and their churches. Everyone goes to everyone else’s Fall Festivals, the Annual Fish Fry, and the Yard Sale. It’s what you do, to help out your neighbor. Our neighbors.
Our neighbors were attacked Sunday, while they were in church, at prayer. How do we respond?
Well, we pray, of course. We allow ourselves time and space to grieve our losses – the heart-wrenching loss of life, and the loss of our sense of safety. We support and care for our neighbors in Sutherland Springs who have lost family members and friends. We do what we can to prevent such things from happening again.
We are called to be the hands and feet and hearts of God in this world. It is past time for our nation to have a serious conversation on why these shootings are happening at such a horrendous rate. We must talk about gun violence, and how to reduce it. Then we must work for change, change that saves lives of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers.
I join with Episcopalians across north central Texas in prayer, as we mourn with our neighbors. I pray for peace in the midst of the incomprehensible. I pray for courage to live faithfully and to strive for change.
STATEMENT FROM THE TEXAS CATHOLIC CONFERENCE OF BISHOPS
to work in unity with all our brothers and sisters to build peace in our communities; to connect in a more direct and substantial way. The Catholic Church in Texas and across the United States is with you.”
We must pray for wisdom and courage, to do what we can to stand against violence and for life. With charity and peace in our hearts, we must firmly resolve to prevent senseless violence. Otherwise, we make a mockery of our professed desire to build a culture of life and to renounce this world’s culture of death. As Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston wrote as president of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, “A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all.”
May God have mercy on all and may the souls of the departed rest in peace.