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Minnesota bishop requests prayers for school-shooting victims

 


Minnesota bishop requests prayers for school-shooting victims

March 23, 2005

By Victoria Rebeck*

MINNEAPOLIS (UMNS)--In the wake of shootings on a Minnesota Indian reservation that left 10 people dead, United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck has promised the prayers of the church to the Red Lake tribe.

"I have written to the Red Lake tribal chairman, promising him the prayers of United Methodists," Dyck, bishop of the Minnesota Area, told United Methodists in an e-mailed pastoral letter on March 22. She asked Minnesota United Methodists, in their church worship services held Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday, to pray for the people of Red Lake.

"Remember the parents, the relatives, the teachers, the school employees, the neighbors, the friends, the law enforcement agents, and those who will provide care for this grieving community," she said.

On March 21, a 16-year-old boy opened fire on his high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, killing five students, a security guard and a teacher and wounding seven other students. He is believed to be the gunman who also shot to death his grandfather and his grandfather’s friend. The boy ultimately took his own life at the school.

"We think about the pain that the victims’ families and friends must be enduring. We fear the violence that may break into our towns, homes, and schools—places where we would like to feel safe. Though this story will eventually leave the front pages, the people of Red Lake will live with the horror and loss for many years," Dyck said.

Church disaster relief organizations have not been invited to offer direct response to this crisis, but United Methodists are providing physical assistance through the Red Cross.

Several members of Bemidji United Methodist Church, 35 miles south of Red Lake, volunteer with the North Star Chapter of the Red Cross. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Eric Hucke, is the chapter’s board chairman, and layperson George Stowe is chapter manager of the Beltrami County chapter of the Red Cross.

On March 22, Hucke and other Red Cross workers were busy preparing sandwiches and stew for their neighbors in Red Lake. Many church members work in Red Lake—in various aspects of law enforcement, the Indian Public Health Service, the tribal college, and at Red Lake Elementary School. A number of church member are employed by the North Country Regional Hospital in Bemdiji, where several of the shooting victims were sent.

Through their work, the Bemidji United Methodists will be reaching out to Red Lake residents. Hucke expected to make a pastoral call to a church member who is a teacher at Red Lake High School and who had taught the suspected shooter in her classroom last year. "She is traumatized," Hucke said.

Violence in schools makes most people feel vulnerable, observed the Rev. Heather Klason, the denomination’s Minnesota Annual (regional) Conference disaster relief coordinator. "Many people are feeling fearful right now, wondering if this could also happen in their own communities," she said. "The problem is deeper than just one individual shooter."

Klason affirmed the need to support people in prayer. "Lamentations is an often-avoided book of the Bible," she said. "Yet through prayers of lamentation, we bear witness to others’ pain.

"Witnessing to the pain—allowing others to tell their of their experience, without our trying to ‘fix" it--helps people begin the process of recovery," she noted.

*Rebeck is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

The full text of Bishop Sally Dyck’s letter follows:

Dear Minnesota United Methodists:

Like me, you are probably deeply distressed to hear of the shootings at Red Lake that have taken at least ten lives. We think about the pain that the victims’ families and friends must be enduring. We fear the violence that may break into our towns, homes, and schools—places where we would like to feel safe. Though this story will eventually leave the front pages, the people of Red Lake will live with the horror and loss for many years.

Because the site of the shootings is under both tribal and federal jurisdiction, church agencies have not been asked to provide disaster relief assistance. The Red Cross, however, is providing food and trauma counselors to the people of that area. Rev. Eric Hucke, pastor of Bemidji United Methodist Church, is the chairman of the board of the North Star chapter of the Red Cross and others in his church also volunteer with the Red Cross. As early as Tuesday, March 22, folks from Bemidji UMC have begun working with the Red Cross to prepare sandwiches and stew and bring it to the grieving people in Red Lake. Other Bemidji UMC members are ministering to their Red Lake neighbors through their work as Bemidji hospital workers and Red Lake law enforcement officers, school teachers, and public health service providers, and as friends.

At this point there is not much more we can do to offer physical relief. But we can provide something extremely important: our prayers. This week, on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we will recall the suffering of Jesus Christ and recognize the anguish of our world’s people. On Easter, we will celebrate the rebirth of hope and new life.

I have written to the Red Lake tribal chairman, promising him the prayers of United Methodists. During your church worship services this Holy Week—particularly from Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday—pray for the people of Red Lake. Remember the parents, the relatives, the teachers, the school employees, the neighbors, the friends, the law enforcement agents, and those who will provide care for this grieving community.

Rev. Heather Klason, the Minnesota Annual Conference disaster relief coordinator, has noted that in recent years, we "allow" people an increasingly shorter time to mourn their losses. Yet the grieving process maintains no schedule. Furthermore, the temptation to apply theological fixes to suffering does not help people to heal. We can minister best by "witnessing" to suffering by allowing people to tell of their experiences—and by upholding them in prayer.

Resources for worship and prayer in the face of violence are posted on the General Board of Discipleship Web site. You can find those at: http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=2594. More prayers and litanies may become available from GBOD worship ministry area later this week, and will be shared with you as they are provided.

This week, as you recall the suffering of Jesus and of our neighbors in Minnesota and around the world, please join me in prayers of lamentation--and Easter hope.

Bishop Sally Dyck

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