Transcript: July 28, 2008, Vigil in Knoxville for Shooting Victims
This service was held at Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, on the property adjoining the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
Prelude (no title available)
(name of speaker not available)
On behalf of the congregation of Second Presbyterian Church, I welcome all of you to this sanctuary. We especially want to extend the hand of friendship to our neighbors, our brothers and sisters of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
This is a time of unspeakable heartbreak and in this time, we humbly recognize that there is no such thing as denomination. We recognize that there are many people, people of faith. We stand with you. We all stand this night as one. We grieve as one and we rage as one and together we hold each other up. Surely, surely, it is my conviction that the Lord is in this place.
Come, pray, rest a while. You are safe and you are most welcome here.
“Spirit of Life”
Rev. Chris Buice
There is power in this room. The presence of so many people, of so many different faith traditions that are here to support our church means so much to us.
I’m Chris Buice. I’m minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. As a young man fresh out of college I took a class called “Build Your Own Theology” where I engaged in an overly-intellectual exercise of writing my own definition of the word “God,” and here it is.
Whenever two or more people gather together to love and support and encourage each other, there is a power greater than ourselves that can renew, restore and sustain us, and that power is in this room. And to that power, I offer this prayer:
Spirit of life whose presence is felt in the deepest of sorrows,
Now more than ever, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, may we so love.
Where there is hurt, may we bring healing.
Where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Where there is fear, may we have courage.
Where there is chaos, may we build community.
Where there is ill will, may we bring understanding and compassion. Where there is darkness, may we bring light.
Where there is only light, may we bring all the colors of a rainbow, all the colors of the full spectrum of life.
Spirit of life, be with us this day.
Rev. William Sinkford
Good Evening. I am Reverend William Sinkford and it is my privilege to serve as President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. I am here representing more than one thousand Unitarian Universalist congregations, including our good congregations here in Knoxville. Here representing them and bringing them the thoughts and the prayers and the wishes for healing not only to our congregations but to this community and I bring those wishes not just from Unitarian Universalist congregations—[thunder]. We don’t know who is speaking outside. But we trust, we have faith, that it’s a friendly voice.
But I also wanted you to know that I bring greetings to our congregations here at this community from Unitarian and even Unitarian Universalist communities around the world, from the Khasi Hills of India, from the United Kingdom, from the Canadian Unitarian Council. The list goes on and on. Although we are a large gathered community here this evening, we are only part of the community that gathers in support of the healing that needs to take place in this sanctuary and in this community.
You should also know that as we gather here tonight, in Boston Massachusetts, which is where the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association reside, a gathering probably considerably larger than this has convened and they will be lighting candles as we will be later in support and solidarity with you here in Knoxville.
I’m struck by the size of this community here and I thought it might be helpful just—although I only flew in this afternoon and so I’m not going to know all of the names to call out—just to allow us all to understand who here is here tonight, who decided that they needed to be here on this evening with this company. And so I know that there are many, many members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation here. Can you just raise your hands so people can see who you are? Thank you. And I know that there are members of the Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation as well. Would you raise your hands? Excellent. And I think there are people here from Second Pres, are there not? I see one. If you could just raise your hands...And from the Jewish congregation, adjacent? A few. A few. And then how many of you are from other congregations or from no congregation who are just members of the Knoxville Community who decided that you needed to be here on this night in this place? Look at the hands.
We are here tonight—I would guess almost all of us—trying to make sense out of senselessness. Out of senselessness, because the acts of yesterday morning at Tennessee Valley are, for I’ll wager everyone in this room, acts that we say don’t compute. They simply don’t —they’re not a part of our world. And so one of the responses for at least many of us is to try to figure them out, to try to—knowing more about exactly what happened—to try to read the letter that the alleged shooter, so that you can try to understand his motivations.
You try to understand as many of the details so that you can celebrate the great courage that was demonstrated yesterday and weep wholeheartedly for the great sorrow that yesterday’s events that caused. But we try to figure it out, to come up with a sense for something that is fundamentally senseless. And often, that striving for to understand the event is our way of avoiding what’s going on for us in our spirits, in our emotional life.
I’ll wager that in this room people have gone through anger, anger that this man could have done those things in that place. I’ll wager that many, many of you have touched that deep place of pain, where the tears simply came as you thought about the losses that have been created. I’ll bet many of you here have spent some time in confusion.
What does this all mean? I know that it doesn’t make any sense but what am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to feel when I see those images and hear those stories? What is a good person supposed to feel and do? I’ll bet all of those emotions and many more have been present for the persons who have gathered here.
And then we have the difficult question of how we respond to the person who created this havoc and this tragedy in our lives. How do we respond to the person? I was asked by a reporter, earlier today, whether I thought the shooter would go to Hell, and my response was that in my religious tradition, we would say that that person had been living in a Hell here on Earth for some time. And they said that that person had some issues with some of the stands of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church and Unitarian Universalism in general.
We live in a society where there are differences of opinion and Unitarian Universalists and our congregations here have a long history of standing along side of love, of standing up for justice and saying everyone should be welcomed saying that we are churches of all souls, not just some souls.
And that's a deep religious calling for us and the Tennessee Valley Church and the Westside Church and the Unitarian Universalists is not going to change living our religion that way. We simply are not. Amen. And you can say amen to that. More and more of the people in this sanctuary here tonight would say the same thing, would say the same things: that we need to be willing to stand up and stand alongside with that larger love which can help us move through these difficult times resulting from this tragedy but these difficult times for our world right now. And we’re not going to stop and you can’t stop it. You can’t allow your fear or your confusion or your sorrow, you can’t allow any of those, your anger, you can’t allow any of those emotions to keep you separated from what is central to your living however you express it religiously.
This gathering here tonight is a hopeful gathering and I am very glad that I am here even though it’s in the midst of tragedy, because this gathering here tonight represents our greatest hope. Because there is no capacity that we need more than the ability to come together as people of faith across the boundaries of theology and liturgy and practice that we are so often told must keep us apart. There is no capacity that is more important than for us to be able to be here tonight, together as one community, because in the face of tragedy, in the face of great tragedy, human beings from time after time have done exactly this. It is a simple and a profound act of presence for us to be together tonight to know that there is anger and sorrow and pain and confusion in all of us to some degree and to say at some fundamental human level 'we need to be together now because if we can not be together now, we will never find a way to be together.'
Blessings upon each and every one of you on the churches where you attend, the synagogues, the mosques, places of worship where you find the spiritual nurturings. But remember the importance of this place and this night and the hope that is here in the presence of tragedy. Thank you. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt
In the midst of normalness, in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of insecurity and rage, let there be light.
Each of you holds a candle and we ask that you hold it now. Light is not meant to be in a single place. It is meant to be shared broadly, widely, to move among us. It is meant to eliminate the dark places, it is meant to drive out fear, meant to bring home, meant to give meaning.
We ask you to join us in a candlelighting ritual . . . As the light comes among you, please share it. Share it with the person next to you. Hold it steady. [Silence] You may have only a small light. It may seem insignificant. It may take time to reach you, but over time and with time, the light grows and illumines our lives.
As we begin a time of silence and a meditation on these sorrowful events, we ask for the thoughts and prayers of all gather here to join the thoughts and prayers of others whose faces we do not know and whose names we can not find so that we might honor the family and the friends of those so affected by yesterday’s tragedy:
Gracious spirit of all light, God of many names and one . . . love. Hold these precious hearts and those who love them in your embrace. We lead you now into the silence. [Silence]
Spirit of life, for those who have died, we ask that they and those who love them be held especially close in your embrace. For those who are recovering, we ask for grace and healing and strength for them and for their families.
Finally, we ask for courage to step into tomorrow with all our doubts and fears, with all our sadness, remembering that even amid such sorrow life is ours to live. We ask these things in the name of all that is holy.
“How Can I Keep from Singing?”
Rev. Mitra Jafarzadeh
Dear friends, my name is Mitra Jafarzadeh and I’m the Minister at Westside in Farragut.
I’ve been asked to say some closing words but I’m here to tell you that this is not an ending. Go forth into life. Be daring and audacious enough to have hope. Live in a way that makes love known and real. and stand on the side of love. Dare to believe that grace is true. And let nothing ever silence your song.
[The children who had been performing the production of "Annie, Jr." on July 27 when the attack on TVUUC occurred, entered the church, singing "Tomorrow." The congregation joined in singing with them.]
The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
There'll be sun!
Just thinkin' about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!
When I'm stuck a day
I just stick out my chin
The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
Come what may
I love ya Tomorrow!
Lyric by Martin Charnin
Music by Charles Strouse
© 1977 (Renewed) Edwin H. Morris & Company, A Division of MPL Music Publishing, Inc. and Charles Strouse. All Rights on behalf of Charles Strouse Publishing Administered by Williamson Music. All Rights Reserved.
[Cheering and applause. End of recording.]