Commentary: 3 lessons from a pastor up close to the Kentucky school shooting

  |  Source: Religion News Service

Students and community members hold hands in prayer before classes at Paducah Tilghman High School in Paducah, Ky., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. The gathering was held for the victims of the Marshall County High School shooting on Tuesday. (Ryan Hermens/The Paducah Sun via AP / RNS)

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(RNS) — As the shots rang out through Marshall County High School, shock waves simultaneously reverberated throughout all of Marshall County as one fact was becoming increasingly clear: Our county would never be the same.

The sirens of emergency vehicles began to flood the campus of the school as first responders rushed to the scene Tuesday morning (Jan. 23). Ambulances and helicopters were dispatched from area hospitals to the crime scene.

These were followed shortly by the barrage of news vans that were seeking to tell the tragic story: Two of our students had been fatally wounded and multiple others had been injured as yet another school shooting had transpired.

How does this happen in our hometown? We read about it and see it all too frequently on the news in other parts of the nation. But not here, not in our home. What are we to do with a tragedy of this magnitude in our community?

On day one of the aftermath, I’ve seen our county step up and once again remind me that this is the greatest place in the nation to live. The strength and resolve of our community can be seen through the bravery and leadership of our first responders, school administration and teachers, and everyday citizens. Marshall County truly is a great place.

But as a pastor of a church only a couple of hundred yards from the school, I wonder: What is the role of the faith community in a tragedy such as this?

How can we work together as a faith community to help serve and minister to people in the grip of shock, pain, emotional trauma, grief and loss?

Here are a few lessons that I have already learned this week:

First of all, the main thing needed is unity. Christianity is often known for the petty things that we allow to divide us, and it is unfortunate that it takes something of this magnitude to remind us of the one thing that unites us all as believers. It is a true honor to stand united with leaders from other denominations and churches ministering love to those who need it the most.

Today, two days after the shooting, pastors from multiple denominations and churches will stand together at a local venue to pour love on our community.

Prayer has reminded me of another lesson this week. When you can’t do anything else, pray! There is a true strength and healing that can only be found in prayer. It is the true ability to release our hurting and helpless state into the loving arms of God. Prayer vigils spontaneously popped up in schools around our area and in multiple area churches. The goal of these vigils was simply to release our hurt into Jesus’ hands and to believe Him for redemption of our county and to pray for healing for all of the victims’ families. The vigils were safe havens for hurting people.

Lastly, the one thing that cannot be robbed from us is hope. There are times that the picture around us is so bleak that we often lose sight of something better or any amount of normalcy ever returning again. Hope gives us the courage to rise from the ashes in a certainty that God has heard our cry and somehow He will heal us.

Through unity, prayer and a message of healing and hope we are resolved that the horror that shook our county on Jan. 23 will not be the end of our story, but rather the forging of a new Marshall County. Though we have lost much, we will rise!

The Rev. Richie Clendenen is the senior pastor of Christian Fellowship Ministries in Benton, Ky. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or the Baptist Standard.

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