What do you tell your congregation/students in the wake of a mass shooting such as the Nov. 5 tragedy that took 26 lives — half of them children — at a church in Texas?
That was the question we asked in the December issue of Reporter. Here are some of the responses we received — from pastors, educators and a soon-to-be seminary student:
From a sermon by the Rev. Jonathan F. Meyer, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Mission Valley, Texas: “This isn’t about guns, or religion, or race, or social programs. This is about evil and wickedness and hatred and selfishness, and about the depths of depravity to which a human heart can fall when the devil is allowed free reign there. …
“To counter the devil’s attacks, St. Paul says, ‘put on the whole armor of God.’ … that is the answer against the chaos of this sin-stained world that we live in: put on the armor of God, given you in your Baptism. … Trust the promises Jesus made you in your Baptism. … Live your life freely as a forgiven and redeemed child of God, that others may see your sure and certain confidence in Jesus.”
From the Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray, senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston: “Satan would love to frighten us away from church through highly publicized mass murders. Let us not be frightened off. We should be encouraged by the writer to the Hebrews: ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near’ (Heb. 10:23–25).
“It is far worse to lose our faith than to die while confessing it.”
From Zach Johnson, a member of Memorial Lutheran Church in Ames, Iowa, who plans to begin studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., in June: “What Satan intends for evil, God will use for good. We can’t know the reason this happened, or how it fits His plan. But we do know Christ and His love. It is so easy to blame the weapon or the circumstance, but we must look deeper to allow people to heal. Surface answers only lead to surface healing, but by recognizing the one to truly blame, we can oppose him by witnessing Christ’s love.
“So while we may see Satan’s handiwork, we can stand fearless and say: I can see your presence. You took 26 innocent lives away. But where is death’s sting? For those who die in Christ are shrouded in His righteousness. So while 26 may have lost the battle, Satan, you have lost the war. For through Christ, we are victorious.”
From Angela Schiller, principal, Yuma Lutheran School, Yuma, Ariz.: “What do we tell our students when a horrible act of violence occurs, especially at a church or Christian school? One of the Bible verses that comes to mind for me is Gen. 50:20 — ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
“How can good come from an evil act? Think of Joseph being sold into slavery, or Jesus being beaten and crucified. Both definitely acts of evil as a result of sin in this world. But both great examples of how God had a plan for good to come [from] those acts.
“While it is hard to understand how good can come out of so much senseless death, especially the death of children, think of the ways that people were able to share their faith in Christ as a result! Think of the number of people, cities and states that rallied around a small church in Texas that most had never heard of before.
“We don’t focus on the evil of one person, we focus on the response of the Christian community. We focus on how God has used this event to glorify His church and to bring people closer to Him.”
From Aimee Walsh, director, Early Childhood Education Center, Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill.: “When talking with young children, first I believe that listening is very important. I would encourage the children to ask questions and talk about what they have heard and what they are feeling. By doing this, you are able [to] assess what their knowledge base is and focus your response to what their needs may be.
“I would never minimize the feelings of a young child, but I would not include many details about the tragedy in the conversation, as their ability to cope with such details may not be well-developed.
“In reassuring them they are safe and that by practicing all of our drills (fire, tornado, intruder), we are making sure that we are ready if an emergency should happen. Even though we can’t guarantee that something will not happen at our school, we can talk about how we are the safest we can be.
“I would also bring our faith into the conversation. By bringing the children closer to Jesus, they can find comfort in the fact that bad things do happen, but we know we have a God that loves us, cares for us and protects us. This could easily turn into a conversation about how we can make a positive difference in our world as we grow in love, concern and kindness for each other — even when others aren’t nice to us. Examples of how we treat our friends when they aren’t always acting kindly can be discussed.
“By turning this into a positive conversation, we can help these children become resilient and well-balanced in a world that at some times doesn’t seem to be balanced at all.”
From Dr. Kim Marxhausen, educational psychologist, former early childhood teacher and member of Faith Lutheran Church and School, Lincoln, Neb.: “When children hear about a tragedy they often focus on the fear of the victims and apply that fear to their own life. This is why after the mother of a student in my kindergarten class died of cancer her fellow students worried about who would make her breakfast and if their own mother’s cold symptoms might get worse.
“When trying to explain suffering to young children incapable of imagining such grief, the best thing to do is to remind and reassure them of the truth that comes from their God-given faith.
“We know that God loves us no matter what. This means that He loves us when things go well and He loves us when life is scary and hard. We know that God offered comfort to those who suffered in this tragedy through His Spirit. And we know that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is nothing we can do, nothing evil can do, that can separate us from God’s love.”
From Scott Schumacher, principal of St. Peter’s Lutheran School, Columbus, Ind.: “St. Peter’s Lutheran School has adopted a Traumatic Event Crisis Intervention Plan (TECIP) to guide and direct our school’s response to tragic events, specifically as the events relate to our students. This program was designed by the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC). TLC’s published, evidence-based research and outcomes support the value of its school-based programs and clinical intervention strategies. More than 60,000 professionals have participated in TLC training and thousands have given testimony to the timely, practical, immediately usable interventions, recovery strategies, programs and resource materials.
“As a part of our TECIP, there are seven main ideas to communicate to our students: (1) Reassure children that they are safe. (2) Make time to talk. (3) Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. (4) Review safety procedures. (5) Observe children’s emotional state. (6) Limit television viewing of these events. (7) Maintain a normal routine.
“Additionally, these points are to be emphasized: Schools are safe places. Our school is safe because … (give specific examples). We all play a role in school safety. There is a difference between reporting, tattling and gossiping. Don’t dwell on the worst possibilities. Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. Stay away from guns and other weapons. Violence is never a solution to personal problems.”
Our next ‘Share it!’ question:
How does your congregation or school share God’s love in your community — during holidays like Christmas, or any time? What special events do you host at your church or school? How do your members/students serve others outside the church/school walls?
In brief (a few paragraphs), please share your ideas in an email to email@example.com. (Include your name, title, church/school name and its city.) We’ll publish as many as we can in the February Reporter.
Posted Dec. 18, 2017
While it is good to reassure children and the entire congregation with God’s Word of love and forgiveness, it is also prudent for a church to have a plan in place of how to deal with a situation like this. We are called to protect the innocent from evil such as this, and we do a disservice not only to members of our congregation but to our Lord if we leave them vulnerable to these types of episodes. Some people in a congregation have a vocation or “call” to protect and serve, whether they be law enforcement officers, former or current military members, or people experienced with firearms. There are numerous and obvious reasons to make sure some people in church are armed and have a plan on how to react to shooting situations so that people in the congregation may be protected from evil intent.