Clergy listen after TX violence

BY JOSHUA LEWIS | FORTH WORTH, TX | September 21, 1999

FORTH WORTH, TX (Sept. 21, 1999) -- As the Rev. Terry Boggs counseled witnesses immediately after last week's tragic shooting spree in a Ft. Worth Baptist church, the best thing he could do was simply listen.

They talked about "exactly what they saw. They just said it over and over and over again. They just had these absolutely horrific stories they were telling," he said.

Boggs is pastor at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, three blocks from Wedgwood Baptist Church, where a gunman entered a youth concert and rally and killed seven people and wounded seven others before turning the gun on himself.

Boggs rushed to the church as soon as he heard about the shooting.

"It was one of those times when wearing a clerical collar was a helpful thing, because you could move through the police tape...and you could immediately be recognized as representing the church, and there to help," he said.

Police asked Boggs and other clergy to counsel witnesses at an elementary school across the street from the church.

Boggs listened to the youths' stories and to the disbelief that echoed in them.

"This one boy was just sharing like I'm sharing with you: 'Yeah, I turned around and saw this girl and there was this big hole in her neck. You know, all this blood was coming out.' Even then he said, 'I still, you know, was just thinking this is a skit.'"

Another youth was shot in the chest and, seeing the blood, thought he had been hit by a paintball gun, Boggs said.

Their stories told of "the incomprehension that this could be happening to them in the church house -- or at all," Boggs said.

The Rev. Tom Paine, pastor of Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, was one of the dozens of area clergy who went to the scene.

He counseled family and friends of those present at the worship service as they waited for police to take statements.

"Their biggest need at that point was not to question things, but to rally together and to bond together, and just affirming that was the thing that I wanted to do with them more than anything," Paine said.

What do you say to people who ask how something like this could happen?

"The only thing you can do is tell them that there are some things in life that we simply don't understand...but to know that Christ is there and Christ is present with us and Christ cries with us," he said.

"We saw one person come in with an incredible act of evil and do this and disrupt people's lives. But when you see the number of people from around the community and all the churches that have responded to this and the love that is being shown by people, we see a much more powerful love than the evil that's out there."

The Fort Worth community came together at a memorial service yesterday on the campus of Texas Christian University. The ecumenical service included representatives of the Catholic Church, mainline Protestant churches, Evangelical Christian churches, the Jewish community and non-Christian religions, said the Rev. Ken McIntosh, a Disciples of Christ pastor and executive director of the Tarrant Area Community of Churches.

The faith community's response to the tragedy has been significant, McIntosh said, but there's still much healing to be done.

"We're still going to be dealing with grief. It's not over, especially among young people. I think there's some venting that's going to have to happen. I don't think that's done yet," he said.

Avoiding denial of the situation will also be important, McIntosh said.

Boggs echoed the concern. "Where it is right now is, everybody's just trying to come to grips with the reality," he said.

His church made the emergency response and "we were totally aware of what had happened, but it was almost like we were in denial."

Boggs belongs to several ecumenical groups of clergy with meetings scheduled for this week and said they will focus on how to develop an ecumenical response to the tragedy.

Meanwhile, many churches' disaster response organizations have pledged support for their congregations in the area.

Paine saw his next job as preparing to answer the questions of his own church members as they struggled to understand the event.

For his church sermon yesterday, he drew from the Bible -- Mark 4:35-41.

"The passage I selected was when the disciples were in the boat, and the storm was raging around them and Jesus was asleep in the boat. And the disciples thought, you know, that chaos was about to engulf them, and Jesus was right there in the midst of them, and he said, 'Do not be afraid.'"

Posted Sept. 21, 1999

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