DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

April 17, 2009

                                                           

Prepared to Hurt

Ten years ago this month was Columbine.

It is interesting that I probably do not have to say anything more than the name “Columbine” for you to know just what I am referring to.

There have been many references to it recently. I know that several books are out now and one in particular, from what I read, deals with it in great detail.

Recently I read an article in “Newsweek” magazine, which took an interesting perspective on the event. It told of two very different pastors in Littleton, Colorado where the tragedy took place. Both appear to be good men, who had a true sense of calling. Both appear to have ministered in compassionate ways to the families, friends and general communities of Littleton.

And, both appear to have been greatly affected by the event and its aftermath. Being a pastor myself I was struck by the article, but not particularly surprised. Something they cannot teach you in seminary is just how many issues people will be sorting through when a tragedy takes place. It is so difficult to know how people will react; how to minister to those affected; and how much of a toll the event and your ministering to people will take on you.

In the article, one of the pastors is a Lutheran of a more liberal persuasion. He is asked by the family of one of the killers, to arrange a private burial service for their son. He preaches of God’s love and suffering and loss. He ministers to those parents.

The other pastor is of a more conservative persuasion. He presides over the service of one of the high school girls who was murdered by the gunmen. He knew and performed the wedding of the girl’s parents many years before. He spoke of that girl’s love of Jesus.

Each pastor struggled in his own way in the months after the shootings. One pastor felt attacked by people in the community when he offered compassion as he understood it. The other pastor struggled with flashbacks to his Vietnam days as a naval pilot and how he felt attacked by people in the community as he spoke of the Jesus whom he knew.

The article tells of how the community “tried to make sense of what was senseless” concerning the killing of 12 high schoolers and one teacher…and the two gunmen themselves. Twenty three students were physically wounded. It goes on to say that the two pastors and their colleagues “were in spiritual triage, tending to the hundreds of traumatized families.”

 

I have been in the emergency room with doctors and nurses and technicians as they calmly and quickly try to save the lives of people. When it is over, whether the patient has lived or died, I marvel at the re-cooperative powers of the medical staff. But, when do they take a moment? How do they calm and collect themselves before the next patient comes through the ER door? What do they do for themselves when a patient cannot be saved? I am in awe of what is done in such cases.

What do pastors do when the people they serve are in such pain and trauma that the “peace of God” seems like an unattainable dream, in which only fools would dare believe? Today both pastors from Littleton still wrestle with the horror of that day and the difficulties, which they faced in the months afterwards. I can only imagine how many times angry people asked of them “How could God let this happen?” I can only imagine the feelings of inadequacy which both pastors felt as they patiently answered that question countless times.

Both pastors are now still in the ministry. One is serving a smaller parish. One is semi-retired. The event deeply affected such men who were there as ministers of the Gospel. One never knows how a community will react to a tragedy nor how it will react to those who attempt to be present and support them. Indeed, two of the “victims” of Columbine were also those pastors. If they “represented” God during those days and months, they had a difficult task placed on their shoulders. Christ Himself was taken to the cross for His message of hope and salvation. It’s no wonder that these two very human pastors had such a rough time of it also.

But, I have to believe, that in the midst of their own private pain while ministering to their respective churches and the communities at large…there were a great number of folks who found consolation in what those two pastors said, did, and prayed for. Very few ministry-moments in the midst of great tragedy end with folks singing “Kumbaya.” Pastors are called to serve but we are never told what the definition of success is in such situations. We never really know when lives have been made whole again. It’s not for us to decide. That is for a higher power.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing