“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5 (NIV)
With a community’s grief and pain still raw four days after six people were murdered in a mass shooting at a home in Rock Hill, India Hook United Methodist Church opened its sanctuary as a place of peace, of healing, of hope amid despair.
About two dozen people came together for the prayer vigil on Sunday, April 11, at the north Rock Hill church to remember the victims – Robert and Barbara Lesslie; their two grandchildren, Adah and Noah; and James Lewis and Robert Shook, air conditioning technicians working at the Lesslie home when the shootings took place.
The vigil also was dedicated to prayer for the families and loved ones left to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy – including the family of former professional football player Phillip Adams, who police say took his own life after killing the others.
“We are here because we share a common sense of grief, said the Rev. Michael Walker, pastor of India Hook UMC. “The bottom-line question is: How do we stop the legacy of mass shootings and gun violence in our country? The conversation we should be having is about what we can do to stop the violence in our local communities. What prayers and practices do we need to undertake to make a difference?
“Something needs to change. As kingdom people, let us be in prayer for all the victims of gun violence, and let us strive to find ways we can make a difference in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, spoke of the importance of turning to God when we don’t know what to do.
“We take our lead from the Lesslie family, when they say that there are no answers that will satisfy the question of why, that their hearts are bent toward forgiveness and peace, love and connectedness, celebration and unity,” Bishop Holston said. “Anger in the midst of any type of tragedy is understandable – but action is now vital.
“Our voices must be raised, asking our leaders to commit to sensible policies and laws regarding the ownership of guns and providing for better mental health diagnosis and treatment. My friends, we must begin this work together in our churches and in our communities to do something about the reality of gun violence in our midst.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
The Rev. Dr. Anthony Hodge, superintendent of the Rock Hill District, led the vigil in a prayer for comfort for the victims’ families and loved ones and for the community at large.
“Clearly, we don’t have the answers to all of the questions that have surfaced as a result of the loss of precious lives this week,” Rev. Hodge said. “We want to do our part and may not necessarily know exactly what to do as the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and perhaps years pass.
“May each of us, in our own respective roles, be used to help those who find themselves struggling with not only the why, but the how – how might they be able to cope with life going forward as we pray together this day.”
Kendall Farnum, India Hook UMC’s program director, shared the painting “Holy Even in Pain,” by the Rev. Jan Richardson, an ordained United Methodist elder who uses art and poetry in her ministry. Farnum also read a poem by Rev. Richardson, “Blessing in a Time of Violence:”
“There is no moment this blessing refuses to sing itself into the heart of the hated and the hateful, the victim and the victimizer, with every last ounce of hope it has.”