By Erik Alsgaard
Five candles burn on the altar at Calvary UMC in Annapolis July 1, during a Community Vigil for Peace.
Photo by Melissa Lauber.
On Thursday, June 28, life in Annapolis changed forever. That’s the day a lone gunman entered the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper and killed five people. The dead were identified in published reports as Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, and John McNamara.
Even as the community reeled at the news of the tragedy, the remaining staff at the Gazette continued their work, putting out a paper the next day.
One of the first responders to the shooting was the Rev. Carletta Allen, pastor of Asbury UMC in Annapolis. Allen serves as a chaplain with the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Department and was on call June 28. When the call came in, she said, she raced home, changed
“Even if I hadn’t been on call, I would have gone,” Allen said. “This is my neighborhood; I live here.”
Allen, who has been a chaplain for four years, said that when she walks into a scene like the one at the Gazette, she does triage.
“Where can I be of the most help?” she said, is the question she asks. “A lot of the ministry of a chaplain is a ministry of presence. I never cease to be amazed at how grateful people are just that you’re there. That really is a lot.”
Her presence as a chaplain, Allen believes, is a tangible sign of hope, and that, she said, “is the greatest gift we can give.”
After checking in with “brass,” she said, to make sure they were doing okay, Allen began to walk around the scene, checking in with every officer along the way. Some of them, she said, had been out in the middle
“They were sweaty, they were exhausted,” Allen said. “I just asked them some simple, care-taking questions. And they always say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine,’ but it’s the fact that you asked, that you care about their well-being, that’s important.”
As she made her rounds, Allen said, there were a lot of deer-in-headlights looks. “Nobody ever expects it to happen to them,” she said. “And it did. It happened to them.”
These are fearful times, Allen said, and she feels for people who don’t have any hope. At the root of it all, Allen sees pain: pain that leads to addiction; pain that leads to suicide; pain that leads to anger and outbursts.
“The uncertainty that results from a workplace shooting just rocks people to their core,” Allen said. “The sense of ‘Where am I safe?’ is lost.”
Speaking on the day after the shooting, Allen said that she was sick, angry and heartbroken. “I literally yelled out loud when they read the names (of the deceased), because I knew Wendi; Wendi was a friend. It’s just so wrong. The people are just getting shot down, at work, in the movie theater, in the mall; it’s crazy.”
On the Sunday after the shooting, Allen said she was going to preach about the safety and security that only Jesus can bring. They were going to sing Gospel songs and offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
Those prayers continued Sunday night, as about 150 United Methodists gathered at Calvary UMC in Annapolis. The Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold,
“There really is something powerful that happens when God’s people pray,” said Wilkins-Arnold as she welcomed worshipers. “I’m sorry that we’re here, but I’m proud that we’re here.”
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling brought words of hope and comfort to a grieving community, saying that we all have suffered a great loss. Naming each of the deceased out loud, Bishop Easterling said that even though she did not know them personally, by the fact that all people are children of God, “these are our brothers and sisters. Our human family has suffered a great loss.”
The bishop said that her concern was not so much with those who were weeping and crying, but with those do not or who can not.
“When we can no longer cry, feel pain or sorrow, we have entered a very dangerous place,” the bishop said. “Then we are becoming numb to the loss of life and indifferent to human suffering.”
When that happens, then it is time to disengage and disconnect, and to find a quiet place and surrender to God almighty, she said, and breathe deeply from the spirit of God and to be healed from the inside out.
The bishop spoke directly to the clergy gathered at the vigil, noting that they, too, are first responders and that they need to take care of themselves.
“Hear me now,” she said. “If you are one who ministers, and you find yourself right now numb to these tragedies, seek the aid of persons who can help you work through your layered burdens. We are first responders of a different sort, called upon to pray with, sit with, listen to and hold the unspeakable pain of persons in life’s worst moments. We hear utterances that others don’t have to hear. We are called upon to hold pain that others are not called to hold. Find a trained sojourner to help you recalibrate and release because if we think that we are above acting out of our pain, we are mistaken.”
Using Isaiah 2:2-5, Bishop Easterling said this passage was very beautiful in its image of nations not learning war anymore, and beating swords into
“I believe that every day, we are either contributing
Lives are either sermons of The
If we want the peace and “shalom” that this passage promises, the bishop said, “then we have to already be living that reality now and point others towards it. This is not some magical thing that will happen with the wave of a magic wand, and folks will suddenly lay down their weapons and beat them into
How we are treating each other right now matters, the bishop said. “We cannot claim this passage of Scripture to assuage our grief and comfort our wound and then leave this sanctuary and return to lives of cruelty and
The bishop ended her words by calling people of faith to become peacemakers, “modeling a different way every day of our lives.”
The prayer vigil ended with a time of Communion, served by eight youth from Calvary UMC.