Well, once again here I am composing a pastoral letter because of yet another horrible massacre of innocents by someone well armed with easily obtainable, incredibly lethal weapons and determined to kill as many as possible. It is beyond belief and comprehension. An elementary school in New England, a nightclub in Florida, a country and Western concert in Las Vegas, just to name a few, and now a church on a Sunday morning. And, of course, this one hits closer to home both literally and figuratively. Today’s Austin paper headline is “Wounded town tries to make sense of evil.” Yes, they are wounded, yes it was evil, but no, it will never make any sense. To be perfectly honest, I am angry, frustrated, grieved, sad, and somewhat speechless. I really don’t know what say at this point. I certainly do not have the exact answer, the right word, the positive proverb to smooth it all over. Let’s face the truth my friends; there are violent and (yes, let’s use the word) evil forces at work in our society. We can talk about how things used to be, or how things ought to be, but the way things are is the reality that we have to honestly face. And as the Church of Jesus Christ, we absolutely have to stand up against the evil in the world, and be an advocate and protector of the innocent. Doing nothing is not an option. So, if this is true, what would doing something look like? First, the immediate and the practical:
- You may or may not know it, but under the fine leadership of Steve Cannon and the Trustees, our church has been working on a comprehensive safety policy this year. It is meant to cover storm damage scenarios, fire, medical emergencies, and, yes, even intruder scenarios. We have already had training sessions with staff, ushers, and other leaders. In light of recent weeks, be assured that we will evaluate whether we need to do more in light of security, as long as we do so out of prudence and wisdom, and not simply fear driven reactivity.
- My good friend Rev. Peter Aguilar is pastor of the Floresville United Methodist Church. He was one of the first responders at the scene. Please keep him in your prayers. Floresville is to Sutherland Springs similar to how say Stonewall is to Fredericksburg. It is more or less a single community. Peter’s church was already in ministry together with the church in Sutherland Springs. Not only that, many in his congregation had family and friends killed. I also have a friend in Floresville who lost 8 of his family members. Floresville UMC is starting a fund to help with funeral expenses, counseling, medical costs, and anything else these families might need. Brenda and I are giving $2,000 to this fund. McClain Ford here in Fredericksburg is giving $3,000 to this same fund. I give the amounts simply to challenge you to consider the same. If you wish to give, make your check out to the Fredericksburg UMC, memo “Floresville” and we will get it to the right place.
- Mental health is obviously a part of this tragedy, as well as others. Over the past year, I have used our church Benevolence Fund mostly to pay for counseling and grief services for folks both in our church and community. It has been used for marriage counseling, suicide prevention and grief work, as well as other issues. If you want to give to this fund, know that it will help your neighbors towards health and wholeness. You can memo your gift “benevolence fund.”
- You might want to know that Methodist and other churches all over South Texas are stepping up to help. One Methodist church donated the cost of all burial plots. Other churches are helping with repairs, counseling, and medical support. Certainly there is much more good than bad, more wonderful, caring, giving folks than we can imagine, and love in the midst of it all. This is one of the reasons why we can’t give up to despair and pessimism.
- We need to keep it all in prayer, of course, but as we pray for the families and communities involved, let us also pray for our nation and ourselves. Perhaps prayers of repentance as well as prayers of lament and grief are in order. Let us pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we dare to consider that we might have been wrong about some things we thought we were right about. That we might actually have to change our minds, that we might have to do things different in order to get different results. Let us remember that as Christians sacrificial love and care for neighbor always trumps being “right.”
I know this has been long, but perhaps it is necessary. Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I keep you in mine. Remember, we are all in this together.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor George Lumpkin