Pastors Struggle to Comfort the Grieving – Some stood with hands raised, others sat with heads bowed—all crying out to God on behalf of the victims and loved ones of America’s most recent massacre.

This prayer vigil was not in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 students and several employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. It was at the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, in the heart of Washington, D.C.
“We pray, God, that even during this horrific time, you will deliver and show your grace,” said Bishop T. Cedric Brown, Calvary’s associate pastor. “Even during this time of calamity, God, show yourself mighty! Show yourself strong! We lift up Newtown…We lift up that school. We lift up those students. Have mercy, in Jesus’ name!”

The Greater Mount Calvary congregation is among many that have prayed for the families affected by the Newtown slaying. The incident’s proximity to Christmas made it even more heartbreaking. But whether death results from a mass shooting or a single homicide, members of the clergy said ministering to the grieving is among the most painful of their assignments from God.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you’re dealing with children…,” said Bishop Noel Jones, pastor of the City of Refuge Church, located in the Watts section of Los Angeles. “It’s very hard to comfort somebody in that type of situation. It’s nearly impossible.”

Often people will ask them difficult questions, like why it happened, the pastors said.

“We ought to be authentic in saying, ‘I don’t know why this happened…There is no explanation for that,’” said Brown. “But it is the pastor’s job to be there, to be fully engaged and to show full compassion on them and what they’re dealing with and to provide solace…”

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, agreed.

“Sometimes the greatest compassion and comfort is just being there, to not try to come up with answers and be super religious and throw scriptures out there,” said Bryant. “One of the things that I try to instill, especially over the holidays, whether someone is lost to homicide or to cancer, is to relive the positive memories—not the incident that led to death. That will help to bring a greater level of closure.”

Bryant, who has four children between the ages of 6 and 8, said they have been asking why the children were killed. He said he is honest in discussing the incident with them.

“I tell them that the man that did it was mentally challenged, needed help and didn’t get the help that he needed. And I tell them that we’ve got to pray for people like that,” he said.

The Rev. Steven Johnson, pastor of Abundant Faith Ministries of Towson, Md., said “Trust in God” is among the most important messages.

“Isaiah 26:3 says ‘He will keep us in perfect peace if our minds are stayed on Him because we trust Him,’” he said. “When something tragic like this happens, the only thing that you can do is trust that God knows best. Trying to tell that to a mother who just lost a 5-year-old who will never go to high school, who will never get married, who will never bear children, who will never get a chance to see her life really mature is a hard place because people are then searching for answers. They want to know why an innocent child.”

The pastors said parents’ involvement in the issues raised in the aftermath of violence can help them to move forward.

“It’s continuing to live that helps to heal,” Jones said. “It’s taking on the issue that surrounded the loss of the children. It’s taking on the issues of mental health, taking on the issues of abuse in general, taking on the issue of the availability of weapons.”

Perhaps the most difficult question they get is “Why did God allow this to happen to children?”

Ultimately, Brown said, the answer to that question is that “God has still given man a choice. He has given us a will…Unfortunately we live in a world where people choose to do evil things.”

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Pastors Struggle to Comfort the Grieving


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