New York Times Op-Ed: Uvalde Needs Our Prayers, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today’s 2022 Book of the Year)):
HIn some ways, it felt like a thousand pastors’ meetings I’d been to before. Seventeen ministers from around a dozen churches met in a church fellowship hall on a Wednesday morning around white plastic folding tables. Men and women shook hands, hugged and sat down together. We went around the tables introducing ourselves.
But this was not an ordinary clergy meet-up. We sat less than two miles from Robb Elementary School, where the day before a gunman killed 19 children and 2 adults.
Together these pastors faced an impossible question: What do you do when you are charged with the spiritual care of a town confronting an incomprehensible horror? …
Tony Gruben, the pastor of Baptist Temple Church and leader of the meeting, found out about the mass shooting as it was happening. He was about an hour and a half from Uvalde, running errands. One of his church members, who is also his close friend, is the school counselor at Robb. She texted him: “Please pray. In lock down. Shooter on campus.” He didn’t text back, worried a text ping might alert an intruder if she was hiding.
A little while later, he got a call from Uvalde’s mayor. The phone connection was weak and broke up, but Gruben heard enough to know things were really bad and that he should hurry back to town. He spent the night alongside another pastor counseling families and, as he said, “helping the helpers,” by offering what he called the “ministry of presence and prayer” to law enforcement officers, town leaders and teachers at Robb. Like every other local pastor I spoke with, he didn’t get home until around midnight.
The Guardian recently summed up “thoughts and prayers” as “obfuscation and inaction.” After the Uvalde shooting, the National Parents Union called for policy changes and “more than thoughts and prayers.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has been criticized for saying that he was “lifting up in prayer” children and families in Uvalde, while also taking large contributions from the NRA.
But as that debate raged online and in the broader culture, these pastors in Uvalde turned to prayer to help people respond to this tragedy. …
There is a saying in the Christian tradition that comes from monastic practice: “Ora et labora.” Pray and work. It tells us that prayer and work, contemplation and action, are held together and inform one another. In Uvalde, I heard many times that “prayer is powerful.” I believe that. And I believe that through prayer, God sends us into the hard work of loving others, in action and in policy. I have prayed for Uvalde and the victims there. I also think we desperately need far tighter gun restrictions in the United States and that this is an urgent moral issue. As a priest and as a mother, I believe it is imperative that lawmakers act to prevent the next mass shooting and address America’s gun problem.
Yet to say we need political action is not to say that it will ever be enough. We also need youth rec rooms. We need people who show up and stay with hurting families till late in the night. We need people who love their city and their church and pour their lives out for the people around them. And we need changed hearts.
The task before the pastors I met in Uvalde is to be present, to comfort, to grieve and to pray, for months and years to come. Prayer is what gave men and women strength as they helped search for missing children and sat with grieving neighbors. Prayer is what led a Methodist church to make sure kids have a place to play games all summer. Prayer is what encouraged a church to offer beds to homeless men and women. It moved them to make a cross. … Prayer is what allowed this small community to come together, to plan and hold a vigil, to mourn.
America has always been a nation of religious zeal and a nation of violence, and the way these realities have interacted is often complex and grievous. Faith in America is complicated. It motivates, at times, courageous action but also inaction. It fosters unity but even within faith communities, people disagree deeply. It yields breathtaking acts of love but can also be manipulated for cynical ends. It drives personal and political change and it can be a cop-out.
Uvalde is grieving and heartbroken. Some want a revival. Some want mental health services. Some want gun control. But every single person I talked to agreed on one thing: They could use your thoughts and prayers.
Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:
- Want To Get Into The Christmas Spirit? Face The Darkness (Dec. 22, 2019)
- Why You Should Give Your Money Away Today (Dec. 22, 2019)
- Why We Need To Start Talking About God (Aug. 29, 2021)
- What I Believe About Life After Death (Oct. 24, 2021)
- Thanksgiving, Gratitude, And The Shocking Privilege Of Life (Nov. 26, 2021)
- I’m Not Ready For Christmas (Dec. 12, 2021)
- What Mary Can Teach Us About The Joy And Pain Of Life (Dec. 19, 2021)
- 10 New Year’s Resolutions That Are Good For The Soul (Jan. 9, 2022)
- Why Churches Should Drop Their Online Services (Feb. 6, 2022)
- How Faith Communities Can Respond To The Opiod Crisis (Feb. 20, 2022)
- Grief And Covid Stole My Love Of Reading. Here’s How I Got It Back. (Feb. 27, 2022)
- Ash Wednesday Forces Us To Confront Death, But It Also Offers Hope (Mar. 6, 2022)
- We’re All Sinners, And Accepting That Is Actually A Good Thing (Mar. 13, 2022)
- Three Habits To Keep After The Pandemic Ends (Apr. 3, 2022)
- Tim Keller: How A Cancer Diagnosis Makes Jesus’ Death And Resurrection Mean More (Apr. 17, 2022)
- How To Cultivate Joy Even When It Feels In Short Supply (May 8, 2022)
- We’re In A Loneliness Crisis: Another Reason To Get Off Our Phones (May 22, 2022)
- Curing The Political Polarization Destroying America With Humility And Joy (May 29, 2022)