It struck many of us as all too familiar. A gunman had climbed high in a hotel and opened fire on a concert crowd below. All that seemed different about the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1 was the location and the numbers of the dead and wounded.
Police found the body of the killer, Stephen Paddock, in a hotel room stocked with a small armory of guns and ammunition. They even found calculations he’d made to better target people in the crowd below once the killing began, according to news reports. By the time he was done, 58 people were dead, nearly 500 wounded.
Many officials locally and around the country responded with statements of thoughts and prayers for the victims, while national media was filled with debates about whether thoughts and prayers are enough.
In the days after the shooting, we asked several local ministers what they would say — what they could say — to console members of their congregations after yet another mass shooting. Here’s some of what they said.
Rev. Robert C. Wright, Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, in a public statement:
In the aftermath of the horror of Las Vegas, I ask you to remember and pray for the souls of those who have died, including Mr. Paddock. I encourage you to seek the comfort we find in Christ Jesus.
Holy Scripture reminds us that we are to “… rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” It is an important part of what makes us human. Even though Las Vegas is more than 1,500 miles from Georgia, we are nevertheless connected with the men and women struck down and the loved ones they left behind by our ability to empathize and have compassion.
So, we pray. We reach to God in familiar words to remember the dead and send our positive psychic and spiritual energy to those still in shock and who will grieve for years to come. But let us remember also, Jesus was a man of prayer and of action. Prayer must be prelude to action. Prayer with no corresponding action is a useless and vain exercise. Most importantly, prayer without action is not the faith Jesus practiced!
My sincere prayer is that the lives of those killed in Las Vegas will not be in vain. I still believe that America is a great country! I still believe we can accomplish great things together. I believe we can affirm the Second Amendment, protect the rights of hunters and sportsman, and enact common-sense gun laws that put into practice intelligent safety measures.
This is not a partisan sentiment. Morgues and cemeteries are not divided by political affiliation. This is about coming to the realization that moments of silence and prayer will not, of themselves, make us safer. What will make us safer is ordinary people like you and I, from every political stripe, finding the courage to act.
Jesus often asked men and women he encountered, “What do you want?” I want an America where we are less afraid and more neighborly. An America where it is more difficult to get a semi-automatic weapon or high capacity magazines than it is to get a bottle of Sudafed. I want an America where special interests like the National Rifle Association don’t control our elected officials with campaign donations that render them spineless. I want an America where law enforcement officers are better equipped to keep us safe than criminals are equipped to do us harm. These are not Democratic dreams or Republican dreams. This is an American dream.
Covenant Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Richard Hill and Associate Pastor Rev. Katie Owen Aumann emailed a note to their congregation:
In the face of unspeakable gun violence in Las Vegas on Sunday night, many of us are left wondering how we respond. As our hearts break, we are called first to lament, to remember, and to pray. We hope that many of you will find the church to be a space of healing in the face of such an act of evil.
Pastor William C. Givens, Buckhead Baptist Church, in a statement issued to Reporter Newspapers:
With many tears and fears for the present and the future, we lament in hope and humble ourselves to pray. As we pray, we remember the promise that you hear our prayers and heal our land.
Father, our hearts ache from the frequent earthquakes and natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars, and senseless acts of violence. And honestly, as much as we desire to be a faithful people who trust in you, in the back of our minds lingers the question, “Where is God in all of this?”
In the effort to find a suitable answer, we search the depths of our hearts, minds and souls, seemingly to no avail. And suddenly, out of the abyss of darkness, springs the hope of Elijah. Elijah who, even as a prophet of God, wrestled with these same questions. You responded to him as you respond to us now: “I am not the author of disaster. I am not the author of confusion. But I am with you, so close you can sense my presence and hear me whisper, “I love you.”
Father, you are an only-good God. You love us and promise to never leave us nor reject us. You hear our prayers. And so we ask: comfort our hearts, renew our minds and refresh our souls; give us hope.
And father, because we do not understand the why in all of these things, we need you to help us. Help us do our part to heal our land. We repent of any error in our ways and ask you to forgive us and reconcile us. Reconcile us, not only to you, but also to one another and teach us to love as you love, forgive as you forgive, be present as you are present and be good to each other as you are good to us.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta in a public statement:
Violence has once again horrified us as a nation and drawn us together in sorrow. All of us — people of faith as well as those with no particular religious affiliation — are stunned by the tragic, senseless, and incomprehensible loss of life in Las Vegas.
At the same time we are awed by the courage and selflessness of the first responders, touched by the kindness of generous neighbors, and moved by the actions of strangers who have reached out to care for those who have been hurt, separated from their companions and frightened. I invite all of us to pray for those whose lives were taken and those whose lives have been altered by such violence.
May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, comfort the people of Las Vegas and strengthen our nation with trust in one another and hope for our common future.