We went to a potluck dinner at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church yesterday evening, in response to the shooting at the Tennessee Valley UUC. A lot of people from UUCs around the region were in attendance, as well as people from other churches. Despite the heavy crowd, Linda, Isabel and I were able to get dinner and find seats at a table. Despite sitting still, we somehow managed to mingle, and I would like to think we contributed to a sense of community that helped people affected by the shooting.
Afterwards, we attended a Vespers ceremony, the meat of which was an invitation to anyone who felt it necessary to come up to the altar, light a candle, and say a few words about how they felt and what they hoped for, to which the congregation would respond "You are not alone." Fifteen or twenty people went up. Some of them were in tears. Some of them were very calm. All of them were told they were not alone. The one who evoked the largest response from me was the penultimate one, a woman with a babe in arms, who came up and lit a candle.
"I miss my aunt," she said, "And I'm thankful for what everyone has been doing these last couple of days, for everyone who's come to the house and helped out." Then she paused, and her face collapsed, and she lost her composure. It was a couple seconds before she could go on. "But I'm more thankful for what Jesus did for me on the cross. I have found hope at the foot of the cross. That's the only place you're going to find it, it's not in yourselves, it's at the foot of the cross."
There was no immediate reaction, apart from the murmur of "you are not alone." No one stood up to argue with her, or anything. In fact, the only objections I heard about it came after the congregation was filing out of the sanctum, and then only from Linda and Isabel. We agreed that it was a shame that this woman felt pressured to witness for Christ, even in the middle of her grief.
It must be horrible, living with the belief that your beloved aunt is in trouble because she went to the wrong church. It can only be made worse by the feeling that you must tell people about Jesus, come hell or high water, or you yourself might be in trouble.