'I believe in Red Lion'

This town has taken to wearing its heart on its cars.

BY SUSAN KIM | RED LION, Penn. | May 21, 2003



"At times I was praying, at times I was just handing out bottles of water."

—Rev. Monte Jones


This town has taken to wearing its heart on its cars. Into the murky aftermath of school violence came bumper stickers that sport a new motto for going on: "I believe in Red Lion."

It has been nearly a month since a 14-year-old student in the crowded cafeteria at Red Lion Junior High School fatally shot the school principal and then took his own life.

"My heart just broke," remembers the Rev. Monte Jones when he got word of the incident just after it happened. "I thought my town's been violated."

Jones, pastor at Dove Community Cell Church, drove straight to the school that morning, as did several other clergy in town.

"We asked ourselves how can we bring some calm to this?" he recalled. "I didn't have any great words at that moment. I believe just being there and having the students and staff see me there helped.

"At times I was praying, at times I was just handing out bottles of water. I've had people tell me since then they remember me being there and they were glad."

And since then Jones and other clergy have continued to be there, trying to bring a peaceful presence even while coping with their own feelings on violence they'd never thought they'd see in Red Lion.

When a memorial service was held for the lost school principal, Dr. Eugene Segro, so many people more than 1,000 showed up they had to stand outside the church and listen to the service through open windows.

A community in need was leaning heavily on its pastors, who were themselves feeling emotional pain.

The Rev. David Tietje, who also ministered to students and staff at the scene and afterward, describes it as "conflicting feelings of ministry responsibility and our own personal feelings."

Shortly after the shooting Tietje felt compelled to dial up the Rev. Steve Poos-Benson, pastor at the Columbine United Church in Littleton, Colo. Maybe, Tietje thought, his colleague who he knew had responded after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School could offer some advice.

Poos-Benson told Tietje that Church World Service (CWS) with its network of 35 denominations across the U.S. would be able to help. CWS then tapped teams from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) Crisis Response Unit.

Since 1999, PDA's crisis teams have responded to six shootings, five in schools and one in a church.

Five days after the Red Lion shooting, two members of the team met with pastors there. They talked about the impact on their faith, what to expect in the days ahead, and what resources were available.

Jones, who acknowledged by then he had not yet come to grips with the whole chain of events, said the meeting made him realize that, while he cared for his community, he needed to care for himself, too.

"It was enough to get me to go away with my wife for two days to detach an little bit. When you're in a giving mode you tend to overdo it. I realized as I looked through a list of things to be concerned about, some of them applied to me. You need somebody to tell you what to do," he said.

The Rev. Jim Kirk, a PDA crisis team member, put it this way: "If everybody talks to the clergy, who does the clergy talk to?"

Red Lion's pastors have been burning the candle at both ends, managing their usual church workloads while making their presence felt in a place that hasn't always readily invited them until now the school.

After offering on-the-scene spiritual care right after the shooting, local pastors worked alongside secular psychologists as the school reopened, first for an open house then for good.

Tietje said the psychologist in charge of counseling students crystallized to the pastors just how important their presence was. "He said to us, 'You folks are known by these kids. We aren't. A lot of our psychologists are from out of town.' "

So, in a coupling that some might consider atypical, Red Lion's pastors sat beside the psychologists, and kids could choose which they wanted to talk to if they wanted to talk to anybody at all.

Kirk said school leaders did well to seize the opportunity to work with pastors. "A lot of times clergy just show up and nobody knows what to do with them. This time the school integrated them into the response.

"A lot of people like to think there's a natural tension between clergy and psychologists," he said. "In Red Lion, that's not true. Clergy were included instead of being the fifth wheel."

In addition, it left recovery and healing where they belonged, added Kirk at the heart of Red Lion itself. "People in a community need to take ownership of their disaster."

Pastors, besides being a local friendly face, bring something school psychologists can't offer, Jones added. "I'm not going to be ashamed to go into that school and pray," he said. "We miss that aspect sometimes.

"I think the community has come through a pretty good time of healing. The sting lessens each day."


Related Topics:

Faith leaders explore what's next

Is mass murder a form of protest?

Faith leaders provide Las Vegas support


More links on Public Violence

Advertisers:

DNN Sponsors include:

Advertisements: