15 years ago Winston OR experienced a tragedy – two teenage boys died within days of one another. One of those young men committed suicide and the other died in an accidental discharge of a weapon. Unfortunately a few other suicides were attempted and an unrelated tragedy at the Oregon Coast cost another young person their life. After the events of that year I expected to never face another season of tragedy.
On October 1, 2015 a gunman opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua Community College just a few miles north of Winston. Before the carnage ended nine people were dead, seven others were wounded and the shooter took his own life. Some eighteen days later many of us in Douglas County are still dazed and confused. The hours and days following the shooting were packed with counseling family members and community members impacted by the event. Even with a 30 hour break (my wife and I were able to get out of town for a few hours) the dazed confusion persists. Numerous memorial services have been held and several more are planned for the community. Grieving together helps but the confusion persists.
After eighteen days let me offer a few random observations – because if for no other reason I need to communicate:
– Though I had no direct connection with anyone involved in the attack, the thought that people have been killed and maimed still leaves me confused. I can’t seem to put a word together on what it is I am feeling. I likely will never forget the looks on the faces of family members as they realized their loved one was either injured or dead. Listening to some who were in an adjoining classroom – their fear, their anxiety, their sense of dread about going back on campus – those emotions that poured out of them have stayed with me.
– I have learned – again – that presence is more important than words in the midst of unimaginable pain. Just being with those people was the most I could offer. Even now I don’t have words to offer those who are hurting and I don’t need anyone to use words to comfort me. I just need those who have agreed to walk with me through this process.
– Pastoring is much broader than merely paying attention to your own congregation. I have lived and served in Winston for over 24 years. Though our church is normal size – certainly not the largest and not the smallest – the role of pastor includes a community of contacts that reaches far outside the boundaries of any denomination or church fellowship. When tragedy strikes boundaries that may have been in place often crumble with the need simply to be together. When people are hurting they are more open to receiving the ministry of presence.
– Finally, though I have said multiple times that time is the one thing that enables us to move on, I am rethinking that theory. Time is certainly important. Healing, however, needs more than time. There needs to be specific application of remedies as time passes!
Still on the Journey