Churches respond to FL shooting

Congregations modify Ash Wednesday services, hold prayer vigils, provide counseling, promise on-going pastoral care.

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | February 14, 2018

Stoneman Douglas High School entrance
Credit: Stoneman High School

Many churches in southern Florida modified preplanned Ash Wednesday services to become prayer vigils in the wake of a deadly school shooting Wednesday afternoon at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Seventeen students and adults were killed and more than a dozen were injured Wednesday afternoon when a former student carrying an AR-15 rifle entered the school building and began shooting. It was the 9th school shooting to occur this year. Police have interrupted plans for a number of other shootings.

First Church, a United Methodist Church in Coral Springs, announced on its Facebook page that it planned a time of Prayer and to have Pastors available to talk after the Ash Wednesday service.

Parkridge Church, a Baptist community that met in the high school until it built its own building, held a prayer service Wednesday night and urged its congregation to pray for "our law enforcement officials, school teachers, and administrators, parents and teens, victims and families."

Promising aid to assist healing ministries needed in the coming weeks, Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church wrote: "On this Ash Wednesday our services announced the biblical imperative to 'repent and believe the gospel.' In light of today's shootings, we repent from our participation in a culture of death; we acknowledge the harm we do to others, and we claim the power of the cross that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation."

The Presbytery of Tropical Florida also promised to support anyone in need following the shooting. According to Jim Kirk of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbytery had begun an assessment of need.

Christ Church, a nearby Evangelical Lutheran congregation, said on its Facebook page, "Our hearts are breaking." It encouraged visitors to go to the church Wednesday night. "More than ever, we need to gather to pray."

Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, also announced it was modifying its Ash Wednesday service to spend "time in prayer over our city and schools...We are praying for God's comfort to wrap all those affected with His love."

The Salvation Army in Broward County said that in addition to providing a mobile kitchen for first responders, it was coordinating its response with the Broward Emergency Operations Center to identify ongoing needs.

“It is a day you pray every day you don’t have to see,” Robert W. Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, told reporters.

"We have grief counselors and crisis teams ready to assist," Runcie wrote in a statement posted on the school system's Website. "Dealing with this tragedy is going to take time and we will be here for every student, every family, and every staff member.

"Our hearts are broken. Please keep everyone in your thoughts and prayers."

Law enforcement officials also suggested prayers. "We need to pray tonight for these families," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. "We need to pray for the victims, we need to pray for our communities and we need to report anything we see that is different that doesn't make sense, that's an aberration."

It is the second mass shooting in Broward County in a year. In 2017 a passenger shot a number of people at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

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