Remembering the shooting

Three years ago this week, I was at church on a Sunday. I was staying around late—I can’t recall why, but it isn’t strange for me, always something to do at church—when I got a call from my mother. There was a shooting at a UU church in Tennessee, she said. No more details were available.

I had a bad feeling about this, a feeling that was confirmed as we learned more. Two people were dead and six more injured after a gunman walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and started firing. It would be a while before we learned about his motivation: whatever personal demons he had became focused on the church’s “liberal” stances. More details trickled out about the shooting: Greg McKendry, a church member and a physically large man, put himself between the gunman and others in order to protect them. Other church members tackled the gunman and secured him until police could arrive.

All things considered, it could have been worse. In this day and age, that’s the sad truth, I’m afraid, and perhaps we should be grateful for it, though we should always remember this and honor the victims. The church is moving on and doing great work, from all reports. Here’s a good article by Metro Pulse, a Knoxville publication.

But that day was pretty awful, and I was 1,000 miles away and safe. As details began to come in about the shooting, I cried a little, worried a lot, wondered what piece of news would come next. Soon, I started playing a rather tragic version of six degrees of separation: how many steps would it take to get from me to someone who was involved in the tragedy? Not many, it turns out. Within hours, I had realized that a close friend of mine knew two of the shooting victims well. He had attended another UU church with them a few years back. Other friends had been members of that church decades before. A trainer at a conference I went to a few months later went to that church. My soon-to-be internship supervisor was minister of that church many years ago. It’s a small, small UU world.

The response was amazing. UUs poured in condolences, officials went to help with trauma response and for a memorial, and members of the larger community stepped up with their support, emotional and otherwise, more than anyone could have hoped for. And apparently, the congregation is doing very well today.

What does this mean for us today? For me, it was a message—a reminder?—that living out one’s faith in the world can come with a price. None of those people went to that church looking to get shot, but being an authentic person of faith means taking stands. We dream of a world where violence is only a memory, but it won’t some easily or soon, I fear.

So this week, I’ll lift up the people of TVUUC and the shooter in prayer, in the hope that we can all live into a better world.


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