The First Parish Blog

Pastoral message about the shooting in San Bernardino

By , Published on April 11, 2017

Dear members and friends of First Parish,

Last night, I was with our Worship Committee and, as we do each month, we reviewed past worship services. When we came to our late March worship, Our Covenant’s Integrity, we held a long discussion about the new evacuation procedures at First Parish. I shared with them that the Safe Congregations Task Force (which is reviewing and updating policies that make our church safer and healthier) has scripted instructions both in case of a building emergency like a fire and in case of a dangerous person entering our building. I explained how the Task Force reviewed “dangerous person” procedures from other UU congregations; law enforcement websites; and, our local public schools, who use the ALICE protocol (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). Myself and one other member of the Worship Committee remembered the “marshal” training Safe Congregations sponsored for about two-dozen church members so that many lay leaders would know how to shepherd their fellow congregants out of the building or into hiding in such an emergency.

I did not know at the time that yet another gunman shot and killed a teacher (his estranged wife) and a young student at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California, that very same day. I am heartbroken that, yet again, we are experiencing a tragedy of this nature, that seems almost unique to our country. I am holding in my heart the family members and friends of those who were injured and killed (including the shooter himself), teachers and school officials across the country who are dedicated to educating and protecting children, and all of the people of San Bernardino community, especially as it was only two years ago that the same community experienced a mass shooting at an office building.

Because this shooting took place at an elementary school in a special needs classroom, those of you who are parents may be wondering how to speak to your children about this terrible incident. According to Psychology Today, when children learn about or witness violence at school, they ask four primary questions:

  1. Am I safe?
  2. Are you, the people who take care of me, safe?
  3. How will these events affect my daily life? and,
  4. Why did this happen and is it going to happen again?

Perhaps some of you who are adults in our community have similar questions in the wake of such violence.

If your family will have a conversation about what happened in San Bernardino, I encourage you to offer them a feeling of comfort and safety about their church community. Please do share with your families that our congregation is becoming increasingly prepared to respond and keep our children safe in case of a dangerous person — though we do not believe such a tragedy will be visited upon our faith community. In our congregation, we also support sensible gun control measures that help keep weapons out of the hands of those who plan to use them to harm others. We sponsor three sessions of Our Whole Lives classes for our children to teach how to build healthy, respectful relationships, partly in an effort to curb the occurrence of intimate partner violence and abuse. We emphasize our ethical and theological belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, including people of all abilities, and we strive to make our worship and programs accessible and welcoming for every person. In our church, we are working to create a country where this violence will not happen again.

For everyone in our congregation, please know that the Pastoral Care team members and I are available to meet with any of you for a pastoral conversation about what has happened. Mark LaPointe is also available particularly for parents. If you are interested in more resources about how to hold family conversations, what the UUA is doing to prevent gun violence, and spiritual practices to help us find solace in such difficult times, the Unitarian Universalist Association hosts a regularly updated list of resources for coping after a national tragedy.

Today, we mourn this tragedy of another shooting at a school and the persistence of intimate partner violence. May we care for one another and serve our wider community by routing out hatred and violence, instead promoting love, peace, and equity for all.

Catie Scudera

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