Written by The Rev. Kristi Phillips, Diocese of Spokane, and reprinted with permission:
Once in a while I notice a sign in one of our churches that gives a clue about how that church sees itself in the community. Something like “Love Spoken Here,” or “Servants’ Entrance.”
A few weeks ago, St. Mark’s, Moscow, opened its heart to its town and practiced servanthood in some poignant ways in the midst of a tragic weekend. Late on Saturday night, May 19, a sniper sprayed dozens of bullets across a parking lot and into the Latah County Courthouse, killing a police officer, wounding a sheriff’s deputy and a civilian and then, apparently, killing a caretaker and himself at the First Presbyterian Church across the street. Earlier he apparently had shot and killed his wife at their home.
Just after 6 a.m. officers entered the church and found the bodies of the shooter and another man, later identified as the church custodian. Many in Moscow had heard the shots during. the night and across the Inland Northwest there were live television broadcasts early Sunday morning.
St. Mark’s is about four blocks from the Presbyterian Church in this ordinarily quiet college town. St. Mark’s Sunday service went on as usual with the Rev. Chris Coppen as supply priest. The small congregation had an opportunity to offer prayers that day for their town and for the victims and their families.
But later in the week, St. Mark’s and some of its parishioners had other opportunities to open their hearts to the community. Dr. Sharon Kehoe, director of the Campus Christian Center and a member of St. Mark’s, offered hospitality to the staff of the Presbyterian Church, displaced by damage to the church and an ongoing investigation. The church’s worship services also moved temporarily to the University of Idaho campus. Some St. Mark’s parishioners attended prayer vigils that were offered in Moscow during the week and a large, public memorial service for Lee Newbill, the police officer who had died. Still others from both Pullman and Moscow assisted with grief counseling.
But there was a smaller memorial service for Newbill that not many knew about, organized by St. Mark’s Senior Warden Ben Jeness and Newbill’s parents. They had been members of St. Mark’s in the 1970’s and 1980’s before Newbill’s father was transferred by the Marine Corps. Lee Newbill was confirmed at St. Mark’s in 1979.
Jenness and Newbill’s widow and parents planned a small memorial service, for family and close friends at St. Mark’s. He kept in touch with the family daily, invited the Rev. Mary Beth Rivetti from neighboring St. James’, Pullman to officiate, arranged for a musician and found people to furnish food for a reception.
Jenness said he learned to value of being present to the family and also of being flexible as the service grew from a handful of people to close to 60. “The prayer book is a pretty good guide, too,” he said.
Rivetti said that people in both the Pullman and Moscow congregations were called on to help with many aspects of the tragedy and responded generously.
She was honored, she said, to be invited “in the midst of something so profound to help gather people – to point to Christ in the center of pain.”
Rivetti concluded her homily at the memorial service,
“A police officer is called to protect and serve the community. Like a shepherd, the officer walks with the people in his care, and knows that it is possible that he will lay down his life for their safety. On Saturday night as the shots rang out, a young woman on her first night as a dispatcher crouched behind a filing cabinet in the dispatch office in the courthouse, and prayed the 23rd Psalm. Outside, Lee Newbill laid down his life for the community he had sworn to uphold.
“As Lee lay dying, as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, our Easter faith proclaims that he was carried home by the one who laid down his life for us all, who washes away every tear, who has swallowed up death forever. Our Easter faith proclaims that the tears we cry today are being collected in the bottle of the One who made us know life and joy and sorrow and death. Our Easter faith proclaims that no part of the world is free from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”
Love spoken here? Absolutely. A small congregation answered the call to be servants in the midst of tragedy -- to minister quietly to a community stricken by pain and grief.