Communities cope with rising violence

BY JOSHUA LEWIS | Lisbon, OH | March 28, 2000

The title of the Rev. David Nikkel's Sunday sermon had a familiar ring to it: "It Couldn't Happen Here."

But it did happen to this small town, as it has to many others: another young student, another school, another gun. Fortunately, no one was hurt when a member of a sixth grade class at McKinley Elementary School pulled out a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and held it on his teacher and classmates. Another teacher was able to talk the boy out of the weapon.

"I think there was a strong attitude in this community that it couldn't happen here. It doesn't seem real, even, for some, and there's the shock that it did happen here," said Nikkel, pastor at First United Methodist Church.

Becoming disturbingly common at schools and churches within last few years, gun violence-or the threat of it-reared its head in two other incidents within the last week as well.

Four people were wounded, two critically, at a Pentecostal church in Pasadena, TX, before the gunman turned his weapon on himself. And in an elementary school in Chicago Monday, gunshots were fired before classes began. No one was hurt and police have no suspects in the shooting.

We live in a society "awash with handguns," Nikkel said.

"There's no way we can escape from the rest of the world," he said of his close-knit community. "There's no way we can avoid and totally secure ourselves against the possible consequences of sin and tragedy. There's things we can do to try to make it less likely in the future."

Nikkel, together with two other members of the Lisbon Ministerial Association, rushed to the school as soon as he heard a report of the incident Thursday.

The ministers helped put students together with their parents, who had come for their children, and offered informal counseling and a prayer by the room where the incident occurred.

They gave thanks for "God's presence and guidance for the teachers that were able to defuse the situation" and prayed for the boy who wielded the gun, as well as for students and teachers as they continued to deal with the event, he said.

Nikkel also attended meetings addressing the situation, especially the potential need for greater security measures at the school. A regularly scheduled parents' meeting Wednesday will focus now on the incident and how to prevent future ones, he said.

Nikkel was scheduled to be on vacation Sunday but chose to postpone it to help his congregation cope with the situation and "try to bring some good out of things."

He used to pulpit to point out some of what he sees as contributing factors to the problem of gun violence.

"In our culture as a whole, children are no longer imbued with moral and religious values," Nikkel said.

Those values used to be part of the wider culture but aren't any longer, he said. "Now as people get busier and busier in baby boomer and younger generations, there's less of a commitment to bring kids to Sunday School and worship."

He also challenged politicians to find the courage to do something about the proliferation of firearms.

The Rev. Dennis Fellenger, pastor at Lisbon Church of the Nazarene, was another member of the ministerial association who helped out at the school. "We'll use this situation as just another call to action to deal with the reality of living in a violent day. We're living in a day where it's not adults doing violence but it's kids doing violence now," Fellenger said.

Even churches need to be aware of the need for greater security, he said. "We've always tried to keep our to keep our eyes open to different situations that could lead to inappropriateness but (the incident) will probably heighten that a little bit more now," he said.

But Fellenger sees the current situation not only as dismal but as one of great opportunity as well.

"We don't live in the same society we lived in 20 years ago and that's sad. And yet, you know, we're in a new mission field: just like the Bible says, 'the fields are white unto harvest.' A lot of people (are) out there crying for help. And too many churches are so staid in their traditionalisms that they don't see the mission field. They're too interested in comfort and being happy."

The incident at McKinley Elementary should serve as a wake-up call, he said.

People should "realize that the next time, we may not be so lucky. And will there be a next time? Yeah. There was a point-six, eight months ago-I would have said, 'Nah, that would never happen here.' But, now I can't say that."

Related Topics:

Could a boycott curb school violence?

TX church meets grief, support

Community is key in violence

More links on Public Violence


DNN Sponsors include: