Speaking as one voice, representatives of Church United, hosted a community prayer vigil for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday, February 15. Students, friends and family gathered on the lawn at Parkridge Church located just one mile from the scene of the horrific shooting that took the lives of 14 students and three adults so abruptly and left our community in mourning. Parkridge Church originally met at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when it was founded in 1992 and Pastor Eddie Bevel, its founder, said many of their church families have students who attend the local school.
Edwin Copeland, Executive Director of Church United, began the call to prayer, saying “We gather not as leaders of various church expressions, but as citizens. This is our home and it’s pain becomes our pain.” Reciting Psalm 34:17, he said, “‘The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart…’ We pray the love of Christ would shine through this community in unprecedented ways.”
More than a dozen pastors from a variety of church denominations offered prayers from the podium along with prayers from school and government officials.
Noting that many of our local churches are already working with our children, Broward County School Board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood, said “Our children need us to be in relationship with them in a way that we’re helping them grow spiritually… Mr. Cruz is just one of many troubled children. It is a horrific time for us as educators and school board members. Our hearts are aching… I don’t have answers but I know there is power in prayer… My prayer is God convict us that we would do more to meet the social and emotional needs of our children.”
Governor Rick Scott asked God to “help all at the school haunted by this tragedy” and to care for the individuals in the hospitals recovering. “Give us the courage and wisdom to make sound decisions to make sure every child in the state can go to a safe and productive school,” he added.
Praying for these families who are suffering unimaginable loss, Pastor Doug Sauder, of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, said, “Many of us have lost children, but not like this. Father, we pray we’d learn to listen and to walk with these families on the long road of healing and redemption… that you’d give us the ability to love like we’ve never loved before, and that we’d see love win over hate.”
Reading in both English and Creole, Isaac Petit-Frere, pastor of The Font Church, recited Psalm 23, encouraging others to find comfort in God’s words.
For the students affected by this tragedy, Andy Fernandez, of Firewall Centers, said “We mourn for potential lost, for hope, joy and dreams never realized. Lord, heal our broken hearts…” He prayed for those in the hospital and for the doctors. “Remember the survivors of this attack. Ease their suffering, help them release their trauma and give them the strength to move forward and courage to heal so they can live lives of wonder,” he added.
“Father, our community and schools are hurting, and we need you Jesus to touch our lives, to heal our land,” prayed Chris Lane, of First Priority of South Florida. After praying for teachers, coaches, administrators and staff, Lane continued, “We lift up Douglas High School… We pray for all the students in all of our schools that you would protect and watch over them… School is more than academics and books. It’s also about life and you. This next generation is so important to changing our world. May you be the One we turn to for answers.”
Virgil Sierra, of Vertical Church, recited Psalm 46 in both English and Spanish, emphasizing “God is our refuge and strength… The Lord of Heaven’s armies is here among us.”
For first responders, Brett Opalinksi, pastor of Christ Church UMC, prayed, “For so many who showed compassion and understanding, so many who left concern for self aside to provide safety and care for others… may the witness of our first responders, their courage and compassion kindle those flames in our own hearts and may we see the beauty that comes even on the darkest days.”
Reading from Lamentations 3:19-26, Robey Barnes, pastor of West Pines Community Church, said, “…I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends!”
In offering prayers for the MSDHS staff, John Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, said, “We pray today, Lord, for the athletic director, for the assistant football coach, martyrs who sacrificially gave themselves to protect their students and friends. Cover their families with your love and grace, help them in a way that only you can. Bless the staff.”
Dr. Marcus Davidson, pastor of New Mount Olive Baptist Church, prayed for strength, peace and courage for Superintendent Robert Runcie and each school board member. “As they face the reality of dealing with policy that will protect our students, as they seek to walk away from the tragedy and deal with the reality that they are humans yet are challenged with the burden of asking themselves questions that they have not answers for. What could they have done? How could they have helped? Lift them to new levels of leadership that they would be able to lead us not only through this moment but beyond this moment.”
Rob Hoskins, president of OneHope, read from Romans 8:31-39: “If God is for us, who can be against us? …Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?… No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us…”
Parkridge Pastor Eddie Bevil read from Ephesians 2, saying, “we were once all sons of disobedience…But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love … made us alive together with Christ.”
He prayed, “Lord we rejoice in these two words, ‘but God.’ We have a merciful and loving God who cares for all people… We pray for Nikolas Cruz and for his extended family. We ask that you would intervene in his disturbed mind and show him the hope that can only be found in you. While we believe in the need for justice and safety in regard to Nikolas… we know nothing is too difficult for your mercy. We recognized this may be too difficult for us, but you are the answer we need. We beg you to meet us here in our pain.”
Before reading a statement from the churches and pastors of Church United, Tom Hendrikse, pastor of Rio Vista Community Church, recalled, “I’ve been a pastor in this community for 20 years and I’ve never seen a day quite like this one, but I have also never seen anything quite like the unity that exists in the Christian community today. In the last few years we have come together in relationship and we have come together in mission and I think that it pleases the Lord, but as I drove here today I was thinking, Lord, you have been bringing us together the past few year for this – that we might be ready for this. That we might approach this with one heart, with one love, with one passion, with one emblem of selflessness, with one willingness to lay ourselves down after the fashion of the One who laid his life down for us, and that we might speak as one voice.
(You can read the official statement in its entirety on page 12.) He emphasized that this is just the beginning of their efforts.
Adam Pizarro, of The Village Hymns, sang Amazing Grace before the pastors gathered to release 17 silver balloons in honor of the victims.
And Arthur Connor, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, closed with the words of Paul in Philippians 4:7 and Jesus in John 14:27, praying “Father use our hands and lives to bring peace and healing to this city and use our hands to help the families of those who have lost loved ones.”
For those who would like to contribute to the needs of the victims of this tragic event, Church United has set up an assistance fund through the National Christian Foundation at bit.ly/MercyFund.