By Stan Friedman
SEATTLE, WA (June 6, 2014) — Covenant church members are seeking to help the community wrenched by the fatal shooting Thursday on the campus of Seattle Pacific University even as they share the same emotional pain.
Quest Church is located less than a mile from the campus, and pastors were at the school and church to minister to students, faculty, and other staff today.
“Quest has hundreds of connections to the university, and grieving alongside their community feels like supporting family,” Liz Mosbo VerHage, pastor of global and local ministries.
Several of the church members or staff teach and hold leadership roles on campus. Associate Pastor Brenda Salter McNeil, who also is an associate professor at SPU, had walked by the scene of the shooting only moments, earlier said Greg Yee, superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference. Shortly after the shooting, she tweeted, “Lockdown lifted. Home safely. Thank you for your prayers. Stunned and heartbroken! Lord, have mercy!!”
“It has been a surreal experience,” VerHage said. “When it first happened there was a flurry of texting, tweeting, and checking on Facebook to make sure the people we are connected to on campus were OK. I have already talked with people who were connected to the shooting victim and people deeply scarred by the violence itself from being on site.”
However, amid the pain and grief, the community’s response has inspired hope, VerHage said. “I have been encouraged even during this tragedy by the wisdom and compassion I have witnessed, and the faithful ways people are turning to God as one who hears, cares and is present in suffering and even in death.
“Without using empty platitudes or attempting to gloss over a difficult, messy situation, many within the SPU community are encouraging each other to process this one step at a time, and to support each other as they begin the process of healing and recovery and reconciliation.”
First Covenant Church also has a number of members who are connected to the school as faculty, staff, students or alums. Pastor Paul Corner also expressed admiration for the way people were responding to events.
“I should say that while this is deeply heart breaking and tragic, the faithfulness and maturity that we’ve been seeing in the response from the SPU community is remarkable,” Corner said.
Everyone still is finding it hard to believe that the violence could occur on the campus. “Our school motto is ‘Engaging the culture changing the world.’ We don’t expect the violence of our culture to impact our school,” said Greg Asimakoupoulos, chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community and a member of the alumni association board.
This kind of thing just doesn’t happen at MY school,” he wrote in an email. “It’s a peaceful place in a safe neighborhood.” (Asimakoupoulos published a poem online in response to the tragedy.)
Brad Bergfalk, transitional pastor at First Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska, wrote on Facebook on Thursday that, “As an alumnus of Seattle Pacific University, the true character of that community will be exhibited by how they respond to violence with the grace and truth of a Gospel that comforts those who mourn and speaks truth to power structures that continue to look the other way when tragedies like this take place.”
Pastors at both churches said they will set aside time in their Sunday worship services for people to “talk, grieve, and pray together.”