By Paula Schlueter Ross
Meeting with several Marysville-Pilchuck (Wash.) High School students and their parents within hours of the Oct. 24 shooting there, LCMS pastor Rev. Kurt Onken says he “mostly listened and prayed with them, and just tried to get a sense of what they were feeling, what kind of emotions were going through them.”
He also “talked about the importance of being present for one another with the compassion of Jesus, about His presence with us in the midst of all this … that He’s got His loving arms wrapped around us at times like these especially.”
Onken, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Marysville, worried when he heard about the shooting of five students by a freshman at the school — located fewer than 2 miles from the church — because four Messiah members attend the high school. So he called and texted their parents to make sure the teens were OK — they were — and then met with some of them that afternoon, a Friday, and others on the following day.
One Messiah member, 14-year-old freshman Peyton Nolte, was an eyewitness to the horrific scene in the school cafeteria when 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg opened fire on his cousins and friends as they sat at a lunch table, and then turned the gun on himself. Five, including Jaylen, are dead, and another is recovering at home.
Nolte “was about 10 feet away” and “saw the boy pull the gun out and begin firing,” according to the pastor. “She dove underneath her table,” and then, “after the initial shock,” she and some friends ran, panicked, out of the building.
Onken was with Nolte and her parents for at least an hour on Friday, and said that, although the student seems to be doing pretty well now, in the days to come “we’re going to keep a close watch on her to make sure she finds some ways to grieve, and cope, and deal with her emotions.”
More than 100 people — including the congregation’s Marysville-Pilchuck High School students and their families and others from the church and community — attended a “Service of Word and Prayer” at Messiah on Monday evening, Oct. 27.
Onken led the worship service, which was attended by a reporter and cameraman from Seattle TV station KOMO 4 News (click here to watch an Oct. 28 video report), and said it included petitions “for the families, our community, those who are injured — for healing and comfort for them and their families — and for the leaders in our community,” including police and first-responders.
Onken said his sermon touched on “the brokenness in the world” — why would a loving God let this happen? — and how that brokenness is the result of sin. He reminded worshipers of the first murder — the biblical story of Cain and Abel, a story of jealousy within a family — and focused on “the hope we have in Christ and how He is our Good Shepherd … who is near to us in suffering, even as He Himself suffered for us on the cross and rose again to give us that hope of His presence, and of His love and forgiveness, and everlasting life.”
Following the service, the Rev. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response, greeted the congregation on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. Johnson said he “reminded them that they are part of a church body of more than 2 million people, many of whom are praying for the Marysville congregation and community as they are going through this time of loss, sorrow and suffering.”
He also reminded them of Psalm 23:4, “that even though it feels like they, as a community, are going through the valley of the shadow of death, God promises to get you through this valley and that your Good Shepherd is guiding you and your good pastor is shepherding you.”
Johnson called Messiah’s special worship service “of prayer, hymnody and preaching … the perfect Christian response to a hurting community.”
Also speaking was the Rev. Ron Norris, district disaster response coordinator for the LCMS Northwest District and one of 10 LCMS emergency-services chaplains who received ecclesiastical endorsement in February.
Norris started his talk by reading the names of the five victims and the shooter, acknowledging that hearing those names “brings a lot of emotions” — including anger — to people who “know the kids, know the families, have a connection.” He assured worshipers that their reactions are normal and that it’s “OK to feel lousy.”
He distributed materials from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation relating to children who’ve been through a critical incident — “how they react and what to do about it” — and about typical physical and emotional stress reactions, with recommendations on what those who are hurting can do to get through them, such as eating right, getting enough rest, talking with others and getting back into normal routines as quickly as possible.
Norris first contacted Onken on the day of the shooting “just to touch base with him and find out how much involvement there was with his congregation.” He said he plans to stay in touch with the pastor, just in case there are other needs that arise, such as for additional resources and personnel.
Norris, Johnson and Onken also visited with worshipers during a fellowship gathering after the service.
Also on hand were three Lutheran Church Charities “comfort dogs” and their handlers.
The specially trained golden retrievers — Aaron, Luther and Shami — generated “lots of smiles” and “some joy in the midst of a tragic situation,” according to Onken. The dogs and their handlers are expected to stay in Marysville through Friday, Oct. 31, visiting with local high-school students (whose classes have been canceled until Nov. 3) and others in the community.
Onken asks LCMS congregation members “to keep praying for our community, for ongoing healing and the comfort of God’s peace.”
And, he adds, “that people who don’t know Jesus would hear about His Good News of salvation” — even in the midst of the sadness — and “that God would use us and use others in the community to reach out to those who are hurting.”
Posted Oct. 31, 2014 / Updated Nov. 1, 2014 / Updated Nov. 21, 2014