By Kathleen Moore
Last Saturday, I fell into a fitful sleep, unable to wash from my mind images of the mass shooting that had taken place in El Paso, Texas. And, early Sunday morning I awoke to the news that another incident of mass gun violence had taken place overnight – this time in Dayton, Ohio. This was all just one week after the shooting in Gilroy, California. I felt pain and frustration and anger, and I didn’t know quite where to “put” any of those feelings. And then, I felt the sudden desire to be in community. To be with other people – specifically, with people who cared deeply about other human beings – who felt a cosmic connection to all of God’s creation. It being Sunday, I was in luck – I headed to church.
As I took a seat, I noticed one of the worshippers in front of me was someone I did not recognize – a newcomer. This is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in multiple congregations I’ve been a part of over the years – new faces tend to appear in church on Sundays following incidents of mass tragedy.
After a tragedy – private or public – people might seek out church for the first time in a long while or for the first time ever. They might be looking for comfort, or to find meaning. They might come just to be with other people and to fight off isolation. They might come in search of some answer to the question “why?” They might come to remember the dead, to pray, to sing, to light candles. They might come simply to do something.
Ultimately, we Christians live in hope. We are an Easter people, no matter what time of the liturgical year it may be. We believe in resurrection.
Ultimately, we Christians live in hope. We are an Easter people, no matter what time of the liturgical year it may be. We believe in resurrection. Even in the most trying of times, if you come to church on Sunday, you will hear words of hope. And this hope is not grounded in rose-colored fantasy or in some self-anesthetizing looking away from the things of the world. Rather, this Christian hope insists we not look away from the violence and injustice of this world. Instead, this hope insists we follow the way of Jesus: feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, come to the prisoner, clothe the naked.
So, how might we followers-of-Jesus best meet the seeker who comes to us in the wake of tragedy? I suggest the first step is to notice these visitors among us on those post-tragedy Sundays that, unfortunately, seem to come more and more often. One of the many things I love about Jesus is the way he notices. He notices the people others don’t. Even when he has his own concerns and problems right in front of him, he notices those on the fringe of any scene in which he finds himself. When entering the gates of Nain, Jesus is accompanied by an enormous crowd. I can imagine the scene – the overwhelming sights and sounds and smells. And through all of this, Jesus notices a single figure. A single woman. A widow – accompanying her dead son out of the gates of the town. Jesus notices this woman, and he raises her son from the dead. He restores this woman’s connection to community. He brings healing.
Perhaps we too might notice the suffering in strangers – fellow human beings seeking meaning and comfort in a frightening world. This doesn’t mean we need to overwhelm them with exuberant welcome or to coddle them with belittling pity. It could simply mean that on those Sundays we try to be especially attentive to our visitors, without the expectation or demand that they return next Sunday.
What if we become community “noticers” in the way of Jesus, offering spiritual care and healing in the wake of trauma? What if we asked strangers in our midst, “What brought you here today?” They may respond with a need for quiet contemplation. Or, they may respond with an open floodgate of words or emotion. Either way, we will have offered the care of noticing.
What if we become community “noticers” in the way of Jesus, offering spiritual care and healing in the wake of trauma?
What if we took it a step further? What if our parishes made it a practice to offer public invitations – through social media, publicly posted signs and word-of-mouth – when these large-scale tragedies take place? What if we invited community members to be present with us – during liturgy or following liturgy, simply to engage with a group of fellow community members and caring people? Like in Nain, perhaps this noticing might result in “word about Jesus spreading throughout the surrounding country” – in the hills and valleys of Vermont.
A 2019 graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Kathleen Moore will be ordained by Bishop Tom Ely as a transitional deacon at 10 a.m. this Sunday, August 18, at her home parish of St. James in Arlington. She is communications manager at Canticle Communications and a member of Green Mountain Witness, the evangelism initiative of the Diocese of Vermont.