By Jeni Miller
With the April 9 stabbings at a local high school, the residents of Murrysville, Pa., join with the likes of those in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., whose communities have been affected by mass violence in their schools.
And Calvary Lutheran Church in Murrysville joins the ranks of LCMS congregations in those places that have stepped up in faith to show mercy to those affected by such violence.
Soon after the stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville that morning, Calvary opened its doors to serve parents who waited to pick up their children and provided a place of refuge and prayer as the events unfolded at the school just across the street. Both church parking lots filled with frantic and worried parents, several of whom used the church’s sanctuary for prayer while they waited.
“I usually arrive at the church between 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. each day,” explained the Rev. David Weeks, Calvary’s pastor. “As I’m coming in — my route takes me right through the school [property] and the majority of what happened took place across the street from the church — emergency medical teams were coming.”
“As the word was getting out that there were stabbings,” continued Weeks, “we immediately sent out [via the congregation’s Listserv] to people to pray for students involved. Then we opened our doors and made it known to the local media stations that our church was open for any and all, for parking, the sanctuary open for prayer, for conversation. So the day started out that way. We had many fill up both of our parking lots, waiting for release of their children who were sent to another campus away from the high school.”
Throughout the morning, more information was released indicating that it was one student, suspect Alex Hribal, who had committed the stabbings. He reportedly used two kitchen knives to slash and stab students in the crowded school hallway for five minutes before he was disarmed and taken into custody. He was treated for a minor hand wound, brought into court in shackles and a hospital gown and charged with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault.
Meanwhile, at Calvary, Weeks changed the verbiage on the church’s sign after deciding to amend that evening’s Lenten service to provide an opportunity to care and pray for those affected. The new wording invited the community to the service, for which prayers were added to include the students, families, stabbing suspect, teachers, media and others involved.
“Following the worship service, we processed out of the sanctuary with candles and lined up outside of the campus to pray and wait and watch,” said Weeks. “That lasted probably an hour and a half. For the service, we had families attend and school personnel [and] media.”
The suburban Pittsburgh high school was closed for several days after the violence occurred, with classes set to resume April 16. Of the 21 students and a security guard who were attacked by the 16-year-old suspect, one student remained in critical condition.
“On Monday [April 14], we [contacted] the school directly to say that we are here and available for any and all that have need,” said Weeks. “We’ll serve as they see fit. As recovery of the students occurs and as more information comes out, we expect there will be more need down the road.”
None of the members of Calvary who attend the high school were directly involved in the attack.
The weekend following the stabbings, the members of Calvary also cared for the affected families through their prayer-shawl ministry. A group of women at the church made 25 prayer shawls that were blessed during the Sunday worship service and hand-delivered on Monday to the families of the victims, as well as the suspect’s family. A free-will offering also was taken on Sunday to help support the affected families, as needed.
“We seem to, in this day and age, play catch-up,” explained Weeks. “Humanitarian organizations step in with resources, but they offer no honor and glory to God. It’s important for us as the church to step up in the name of Jesus just because it’s the right thing to do. We have to be there. We have to work alongside people who will not give glory to the Lord and be witnesses. We’ve had an opportunity in this tragedy to honor God. We’re there through the initial tragedy that occurred. But really, it’s down the road when more and more questions — the why and the how — start to come out. And we have to be there.”
Weeks says he believes that this is all part of what the church does, showing mercy in the midst of disaster and tragedy.
“Over the years, we’ve tried to connect more with our community and school, for such a time as this,” said Weeks. “That connection was solidified under these tragic circumstances, but God provided [a] way for us to be there. We weren’t called upon by the school — we made the contact on our own. We’ve learned through the years not to wait for others to ask for help, They’re reluctant to ask. All we have to do is make ourselves available. The Lord gives us the words and actions. It really makes us a lot calmer, which is good because we serve no purpose if we’re in a lather. This way, we can offer a sense of calm and peace when it’s otherwise hard to grasp.”
Jeni Miller is a freelance writer and member of the Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted April 15, 2014