“When times like this happen, the church needs to be a place that gives hope in a world that seems to have so little of it,” pastor Chip Pendleton said during a prayer service Wednesday evening (April 12) that honored victims of the shooting at Old National Bank in Louisville, Kentucky.
“We felt like there needed to be something concrete, some way for people to respond to it,” Pendleton, pastor of Westport Road Baptist Church in Louisville, told The Baptist Paper. The church is located 15 minutes from downtown Louisville, where five people were killed and eight were injured during the April 10 shooting.
Pendleton and other leaders worked quickly to organize the service, which was held during the church’s regularly scheduled prayer meeting time and open to the community.
‘Light in the darkness’
The vigil focused on four themes: God’s presence in times of doubt; God’s love and comfort; God’s future plan, which includes no more hurt or pain; and God’s call to His people to be a light in the darkness.
“As people of faith, we sometimes think that if you believe in God, there won’t be troubles and problems in the world. But that’s not the case at all,” said Pendleton, reminding vigil attenders of Scriptures that promise trouble in this world, but also God’s continued presence.
“You may have questions, you may have doubts, you may have griefs,” Pendleton said. He encouraged those praying in the room and online to take those things to God.
“Take your doubts, your griefs, your questions. Be very honest and raw, and tell God how you feel tonight,” he said. “God loves you. He cares. He is present.”
Mourning with those who mourn
During the vigil, leaders facilitated prayer for the families of the victims, naming each person who died during the shooting and honoring them with a moment of silence. Police have identified the victims as Joshua Barrick, 40; Deana Eckert, 57; Thomas Elliott, 63; Juliana Farmer, 45; and James Tutt, 64.
“O Lord, hear our prayer for those families whose loved ones did not return on that Monday,” prayed Josh Miles, associate pastor. “We ask that you would surround them with people who would comfort them and that would be a source of your love in this broken world.”
At the end of the service, attenders were invited to sign letters to the families of each of the victims, to the Louisville Metro Police Department, and to the family of Connor Sturgeon, who police have identified as the shooter. Sturgeon also died in the shooting.
The letters will be sent “as a tangible way of being able to express compassion” for the recipients, Pendleton said.
God’s powerful promise
The church recently completed a sermon series on how God creates beauty from our brokenness, Pendleton said. The series, titled “Mosaic,” culminated with churchgoers creating an actual mosaic from pieces of broken glass.
Russell Fuller, a Deputy Sheriff with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office, was at Westport Road to hear those messages on brokenness and beauty. He also was one of the first responders at Old National Bank on April 10.
“One thing that sustains me is that I know there’s a promise in Revelation that God says He’s going to mend all broken things,” Fuller said at the prayer service. “Every single one of them, every single one of them. Every single hurt, every single tear. He’s going to mend them, that’s a promise. I don’t know how, but He’s all powerful. He can do it. And I trust Him that He will.”
Prayers for strength, peace
Fuller also spoke briefly in honor of Nickolas Wilt, the newly graduated police officer who was injured in the shooting and is still in the hospital.
After they sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” vigil attenders prayed for their city, that Louisville will find hope again not in itself or in anything temporary, but in the promise that God will make all things new. They sang “Amazing Grace” and one by one, they lit candles around the sanctuary.
“We know we may never have the answers to some of the questions we have, at least not in this world,” Pendleton prayed to start the service. “And so our prayer tonight is for strength, for peace, and for Your presence, and that more than anything else. Give us Your presence, and in Your presence, that is where we will find peace.”