By Jeni Miller
On May 18, just as the Rev. Ken Hennings, president of the LCMS Texas District, was talking to the district’s director of disaster response, Julie Tucker, the director “got an alert of an active shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.” A shooter had opened fire on students and faculty at the town’s Santa Fe High School, ultimately killing 10 people and injuring 10 more.
Immediately, the Texas District began to respond.
“I started calling pastors,” said Hennings, “one after another.”
One of the pastors, the Rev. Ralph Hobratschk of Hope Lutheran Church in Friendswood — who also serves as a chaplain with the local police department — was aware of the situation, having already checked with the two families in his congregation who had students at the school. While they were safe, one of the members at Hope lost two close friends in the shooting.
“Pastor Hobratschk asked the church’s youth director/DCE to make an immediate visit to the member’s house to care for that person,” explained Hennings.
Other nearby churches, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Nassau Bay and Peace Lutheran Church in Texas City, also checked in with the families in their congregations who have students at Santa Fe High School. All of the members are safe.
The pastors at both Gloria Dei and Peace also serve their communities as hospital chaplains, and Hennings noted that “Gloria Dei was called by their hospital and asked if they could send pastors.”
The Rev. Dan Schepmann, senior pastor at Gloria Dei, received a phone call from Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, a Level Two trauma center, seeking help with pastoral care knowing that the injured from Santa Fe High School were on their way.
“I’ve never been called by a hospital before to ask if we can show up,” said Schepmann. “We’d developed the partnerships years ago and did the hard work, and through that partnership they called us. We immediately sent two pastors, one DCE and one parish nurse.”
Schepmann said Gloria Dei staff ministered to eight families, two of whom had lost children.
Care for the community also came in the form of the Lutheran Church Charities’ (LCC) comfort dogs, who arrived that Friday night at Gloria Dei.
“We invited LCC down and had no idea we’d get the response we got,” said Schepmann. “As of last night, we got 15 comfort dogs here. They were also at the prayer vigil.” The dogs made it easier, he said, to talk with people and care for them.
“Through the comfort dogs we also had an opportunity to meet Senator Ted Cruz, who was also there offering fantastic comments and quoting Scripture to comfort the community.”
Scheppman said that he will be attending an event prior to the reopening of Santa Fe High School that will offer another chance to minister to the teachers and administrators there. He plans to continue to “play a behind-the-scenes approach, sharing Jesus and being His hands and feet” in the community.
“The witness, mercy and life together is all over this,” he added. “We are a light in the midst of darkness. This is what the church should be doing.”
Echoing those comments, Hennings explained that “we reach out because we have a message of peace and comfort and hope through our Lord Jesus Christ, and when these disasters happen we are quick to respond with care and help wherever people need assistance.”
Care for the community and Texas District members included Bible studies where people openly shared about the event and heard what God’s Word had to say about these tragedies.
Other local LCMS churches prayed for all those affected, and another delivered prayer quilts to shooting victims’ families. Pastors in the area reported increased attendance at worship services the Sunday after the shooting.
“Some folks were attending our church for the first time,” shared the Rev. Matthew Brackman, pastor at Peace. “As we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, we found comfort in the Word of God. It was a great blessing to be refreshed and strengthened by the body and blood of the one who brings us true peace in the midst of this upheaval. Shaking hands and seeing the faces of my people as they left emphasized to me how our Lord brings comfort and peace to His people in His house.”
In the weeks to come, Hennings said, “the chaplain corps in Friendswood will continue to reach out to the first responders to make sure they’re OK as well, as those responders coming out of this tragedy are stunned by what they saw.”
Considering all of the many ways that the LCMS congregations surrounding the Santa Fe area responded, Hennings said he is “so pleased to have pastors to connect with each other and use the resources that we have available right here in the district and in the LCMS.”
Deaconess Jeni Miller is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted May 25, 2018