The Grief We Bear
It was weighing heavily on my heart all day Sunday. I woke up to the news that 9 more people had been killed in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, this after 22 had already been slaughtered in El Paso the day before. I heard multiple sirens throughout the day and each time thought, “I hope something hasn’t happened here too.” I went to a movie, in a shopping mall, and thought, “What if……?” Then while in my car, listening to the horrific reports of violence and loss and white supremacy on the radio, the tears started to flow.
My tears were a natural response to the overwhelming loss of so many lives, ranging in age from 15 to 86. I felt such deep despair and anger. I didn’t know any of the victims, but I was grieving. It wasn’t just empathetic grief for the communities and families impacted. It was also my own grief over a nation that seems to have lost its way: mass gun shootings that eclipse that of any other nation in the world, white supremacy that clearly has yet to lose its grip on us, and the lack of social and political will for bold and effective change on any of it.
In these tender days when our nation’s own vulnerabilities and evils are on such brutal display, many of us are grieving deeply. But there’s a broader grief I’ve sensed among us, too, not just a reaction to the tragedies of El Paso and Dayton. I’ve seen it consuming us in the Church over many years, and in this Conference, too.
We’re grieving the loss of days now past, when more of our churches were full and our Sunday School rooms were overflowing. We’re grieving the difficult decisions we’re now faced with: how to maintain buildings that are now too big for our needs, how to reach populations increasingly disinterested in the institution of church that has so profoundly shaped our own lives, how to remain vital when some of the communities our churches sit in are dying. We grieve when our beloved camps are sold and our cherished churches close and when so much of what we have treasured seems caught in a downward spiral. In the Church, we grieve our own losses in these times of great change and unfamiliar futures. We grieve.
Today, I’m still shedding tears as I hear families speak of their loved ones killed in El Paso and Dayton. The trauma and unrelenting grief ahead for those families, for those who survived, for those communities, and for a nation coming to terms with our most sinister failings will not go quietly. But we also remember the consolation of the Psalms, that God draws “near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18)
May God draw near to the grieving in Dayton and El Paso, and may God draw near to us all.
Grace and peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister