Island clergy search for answers in faith, after school shooting

Island clergy search for answers in faith, after school shooting

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First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Across Martha’s Vineyard, many turned to their church for comfort and counsel as they empathized with the people in Newtown, Connecticut, where the school shooting that left 20 first graders and eight adults dead.

The Rev. Jerry Fritz, pastor at the Federated Church in Edgartown devoted his Sunday sermon to the tragedy.

Rev. Fritz said he watched some of the news coverage with his 18-year-old daughter, who was very troubled by the mass murder of young children.

“They were purely innocent victims,” Rev. Fritz said Monday. “What brings a person to do this is just beyond my imagining. How could you inflict that much pain and anguish? You have a community there in Newtown, Connecticut, their lives have forever been changed. Nothing will ever be the same.”

He said his daughter, like many faced with unimaginable horror, questioned her faith.

“She said ‘When I see something like this happen in the world, I wonder if God hasn’t given up on us,'” Rev. Fritz said. His counsel to her, and his congregation on Sunday, was to remember the goodness of most people. “Yes this is a terrible tragedy, and we don’t want to lessen it,” Rev. Fritz said. “But there’s also a great beauty in the world. What we have to do is live our lives with the gratitude that we have toward God, for all the beauty and of the love, knowing that from time to time, you meet people that are very ill, and that just appalls us.”

The Rev. Ellen Tatreau was getting ready for Christmas Tea with members of the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven when she heard the first reports of the shooting. “There was a lot of confusion and heartache,” she said. “The full story of Christmas, of course, is that in a world threatened by darkness and evil and sickness and sadness, there is hope in resurrection.”

Rev. Tatreau had prepared a sermon based on the third week in advent, a time to rejoice. Instead, she turned to scripture to offer her congregation some context for such horrific events.

“I, for one, don’t want us to block this from our minds as we sit down to gather with friends and family around our Christmas trees laden with gifts and tables abundant with food and good cheer,” Rev. Tatreau wrote in the sermon prepared for the service. “Let us find joy amidst all the unhappiness, the joy of being able to hold dear ones a little closer; the joy of cherishing each other and being cherished; the joy of feeling comfort in the arms of another; the joy of receiving kind acts from complete strangers; the joy of being part of a community that does not turn its back on us when we most need it but lifts us up and walks life’s journey with us, in good times and in bad. This is the hope of Christmas. This is cause for us to rejoice, even in the midst of sadness.”

The Rev. Richard Rego, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard, opened the Trinity Worship Center in Oak Bluffs on the evening of the tragedy, to provide a place for parishioners to seek comfort.

“People came, we prayed together, and just sat quiet,” Rev. Rego said. “What makes it even harder is this happened right in the middle of the Christmas season of hope and love.”

He also set aside time in his Sunday service to counsel churchgoers. “We’ve got quite a few teachers in the congregation, and we’re speaking to kids all the time,” Rev. Rego said. “It’s the same sort of need to talk to children as we felt after 9/11.”