April 17, 2013
A little more than 24 hours after explosions rocked the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores of others, United Methodists in Boston opened their doors and gathered to grieve, pray, cry out to God, and find a way toward healing in the midst of the pain of the city.
Less than two miles from the blast sites, a service of prayer and healing was held at Old West Church, a United Methodist congregation. The church - part of the Metro Boston Hope District of the New England Conference - is located in Boston’s downtown neighborhood between government center and Mass General Hospital, where some of the victims of the bombings were taken. One hundred people attended the service, arranged jointly by Revs. LaTrelle Miller Easterling, district superintendent; Marion Easterling, pastor of Old West Church; and Jay Williams, pastor of Union UMC in Boston’s South End. Ms. Ruby Blake, district lay leader and Union UMC member, also participated in the service.
At the same time, dozens of churches from Rhode Island to Maine scheduled services for their own communities, and many others are opening their sanctuaries throughout the week.
Bishop Devadhar addresses those gathered for the service of hope and healing at Old West Church in Boston.
Although visibly moved as he addressed the congregation, particularly when speaking of the grief of those families who lost loved ones in such a shocking and violent act, Boston Area Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar offered words of comfort and hope to those gathered. While acknowledging that we are still struggling with questions and with forgiveness, he shared words from Samuel Wells in a recent Christian Century article: "Forgiveness shouldn't be the last thing Christians have to say in the face of injustice. It should be the first thing.” The bishop urged the faithful to remain centered in Christ and to find our comfort in knowing that we serve a God of justice, love, and peace. “We must remember our calling to be agents of God’s love and peace in our communities and in our world.”
United Methodist clergy and laity from all over the district attended the service, and many participated in the liturgy, offering prayers, readings, and stories. Many tears were shed as the names of those killed were spoken aloud, including 8-year old Martin William Richard, whose mother and sister are still recovering from serious injuries also caused by the blasts.
Midway through the service, Superintendent Easterling told the story of Stan Smith, a young adult member of Union UMC, who was a participant, running in his very first Boston Marathon. He was about four miles from the race's end when the explosions happened, although at that time he was unaware of what was unfolding until he came closer to the finish line. By then the scene was crowded with emergency vehicles and the response was underway. He recounted some of his experience later in a written piece on his blog, as the full realization and trauma of the events began to reach him. The district superintendent invited Smith to come forward, and many of the clergy in attendance also came forward, laying hands upon Smith in a special time of healing prayer.
As the congregation shared more prayers and hymns, Superintendent Easterling led the gathering to begin to move from tears into hope. She shared words from the Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, pastor of St. Matthew's UMC in Acton, Mass., who wrote that we must be the people who have “the courage to be gentle.” In the face of violence and hatred and despair, he says, “the world needs people who choose love over fear.”
In the written reflection that Superintendent Easterling shared, Rev. Garnaas-Holmes admitted that love is not easy. He compared it to a marathon.
“It takes dedication and training and a lot of commitment. It’s not for the faint-hearted…Love takes guts. It takes faith, confidence that a greater love is at work even when we cannot see it. And it takes patience, like a marathon — the willingness to go the distance, to keep at it when your body cries, “Quit!,” when your mind thinks of better things to do, when pain and weariness make you want to give up —it takes guts to keep going anyway.”
“The Via Dolorosa is the toughest race," Garnaas-Holmes continued. "To share in the world’s pain and sadness, and still keep up hope and love — that is the world’s oldest marathon. The good news is that we do not run alone. Nor do we run on our own energy: we are moved by the desire of God for the healing of the world.”
Stan Smith writes of his experience on his blog: renaissancestan.com
Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes' blog is unfoldinglight.net. A full copy of his reflection on the events of the Marathon can be found there.
For a current list of churches offering services, as well as resources for congregations in times of tragedy, visit www.neumc.org/healing.
Interfaith service offers comfort, affirmation to Boston - April 18, 2013
Messages to the New England Conference from Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar:
News from United Methodist News Service:
An interfaith liturgy to Pray for Boston - shared by Rev. Laura Everett, Massachusetts Council of Churches
List of churches holding prayer services - www.neumc.org/healing
Bishop Devadhar and others pray with Stan Smith, a member of Union UMC who was running the Boston Marathon when the explosions happened.