News and Views

Shiloh UMC responds to Smithsburg shootings

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By Melissa Lauber

At Shiloh UMC in Hagerstown, the people’s hearts are so interwoven that their stories are written on one another’s faces and across one another’s lives. On June 12, Pastor Dionne Hall stood in front of the church, looked into those faces and saw the tragedy of three young men murdered earlier that week while they were at work.

The June 9 incident at Columbia Machine in Smithsburg, in which a gunman shot four people and then was apprehended after shooting a police officer, is a headline that merges with recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y. 

But at the little country church, tucked off the beaten path, the politics of gun violence have been set aside as the people gathered to mourn Mark Allan Frey, 50; Charles Edward Minnick, Jr. 31; and Joshua Robert Wallace, 30. The victims were related to people in the congregation, and even those who were not related by blood were family. “The lives of these men are deeply embedded in the church,” said Hall.

“For the church, this is being lived out on a heart level. This is not about politics. We are a family. This is not about starting another argument,” Hall said. “I appreciate the thoughts and prayers so much, but people are gone. This is a sacred time and church is a sacred space for us to share our stories about how we’re affected and to pray with and for each other. Politics is not going to help us do that.”

On the Sunday following the shooting, Hall opened the worship with the 23rd Psalm and its imagery of God as a shepherd. “This is a farming community,” she said. “That is their psalm. They sing it, they teach it to their children. It resonates with special meaning.”

All three victims are related to people who sit each week in the pews at Shiloh. “Imagine looking out at your congregation every single Sunday and 98 percent of the people you would see were related to the three people who died. Every single one of those people has a story.”

“And so, you listen,” Hall said. “Everybody has a story, and every story is important. Every story represents a life – a life that mattered to these people, a life that was touched by their presence. The whole community was touched by these three men, and they’re gone.”

In the days following the shooting, Hall noted that the atmosphere in the sanctuary had changed. Hope seemed gone.

She called on clergy colleagues in the ecumenical Hagerstown Area Religious Council. They showed up, people of all denominations, and they prayed for the people of the church and community. “By the time they left, hope had returned,” said Hall. “There was a light back on in Shiloh.”

Hall also opened wide the doors of the church, and active and retired United Methodist pastors joined Hall as they prayed with people. “Those pastors also propped me up,” said Hall. “It’s like the saying, ‘God’s got you, so you can get this.’ They propped me up so I could hold the congregation up.” 

In addition to listening to her congregation’s stories, Hall is also responding to questions of faith that this tragedy evokes. She assures them that “God weeps for us. God weeps deep and bitter tears and he sews us back together as a community. And as God cries, he cries tears of compassion, mercy, love, and healing. God cries tears of hope.

Shiloh, which traditionally has between 50 and 60 people in worship, calls itself “a little country church with the big heart.”

 Hall is not sure what next Sunday will bring. She is certain “this is not a one Sunday thing.” The religious leaders of Hagerstown have already begun considering how the church can continue to respond to the community and how grief counseling can be made widely available.

Joshua Wallace’s mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle sit every week on the front row of the church.  For years, his mother shared the children’s message and would handwrite and laminate the week’s Scripture passages on note cards for the children to take home. 

 Hall saved many of those passages and they are scattered around her house. When she looks at them, the word of God and the love of God brightens her day. It’s those little details that bind the people of Shiloh together. Even in the deepest grief, their stories make them family.  

Martha Glass Jun 16, 2022 8:53pm

This church is so loved by so many. Know that in our hearts we cry for you, but we know God’s arms are holding us up, holding us tight, and will never let us go. He will encourage us to know He is with our loved ones in death, in grief, and in hope. Pax vobiscum.
From a member of First United Methodist Church in Cary NC.