UCC pastors in Boulder come together to help community heal
Prayer vigils, community check-ins and comfort care. Two United Church of Christ churches in Boulder, Colo., are reaching out with love to their members and neighbors after a mass shooting took the lives of 10 people at a nearby grocery store on Monday night.
“We read Psalms, prayed and wept together,” said the Rev. Christina Braudaway-Bauman, First Congregational’s pastor. She said even while the church was gathering on Zoom, members of her large downtown congregation were running through a mental roster of others who live in the neighborhood near the store.
“Had we checked in or heard from everyone living in the area? Were there folks we still needed to reach out to check in with? Nearly everyone was accounted for,” she said. “Follow-up phone calls happened the same evening for those who hadn’t been heard from.
“I love that this happened spontaneously. Congregational care is one of our strengths.”
Helping community heal
“Both of us are working to create spaces for people to process trauma,” said the Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche, pastor of Community UCC.
Her church is just blocks away from King Soopers. First Congregational is located less than two miles north of the store. The two pastors, who once worked together in ministry in the same church 15 years ago, are joining forces to help their Boulder community heal.
Lamarche and Braudaway-Bauman wanted to connect with mental health specialists who can work with people on how best to recover. Lamarche said they have linked up with a local organization that specializes in trauma. Called Natural Highs, it is offering free mental health support. They also connected with the Boulder Community Foundation, which established a crisis fund.
Visual memorial; outdoor gathering
First Congregational has already found a way to honor the 10 people killed.
“We are in the midst of preparing an art installation in our sanctuary to share with the community as an expression of grief over all those who have suffered and died from COVID – thousands and thousands of origami butterflies with names and prayers written inside,” said Braudaway-Bauman. ”Today, 10 strands of butterflies were added in memory those who died.” The memorial goes up on March 30.
Community UCC, mourning a friend of the church, is working it out.
“The officer who was killed is someone our church knew well,” Lamarche said. “He supported us in June when we were the victim of a hate crime. We are still processing this and will continue to discern how to honor him.”
Thursday night, Community UCC, with a large outdoor space, offered a chance for people to gather in person on church grounds.
“We hosted ‘Community Office Hours’ on our patio/terrace and on Zoom for those who could not join in person,” said the Rev. Jackie Hibbard, acting associate pastor.
The fire pit drew folks for both warmth and conversation. Clergy blessed prayer shawls that will be distributed to those who need the love and comfort they bring from the church community. “One of the shawls will be given to a member who works for the City of Boulder and has been involved in many aspects of the situation,” Hibbard said. “We are also collecting items for her and her family to offer support and comfort — tulips or daffodils that are blooming and she can plant the bulbs later, essential oil, comfort tea, and a nutritious meal.”
Palm Sunday outreach
Community UCC also has plans to help young people process what happened just down the street from the church.
“We are having in-person Sunday School for the youth,” Hibbard said. “I will be bringing one of my miniature horses. He will participate in the palm procession, but he will also hang with the kids. What I know is that he can bring out emotions, conversation and processing in a miraculous way. I hope it will be healing for the kids and their parents.”
On Palm Sunday, both churches also have time set aside to talk about next steps. Community UCC, which has long worked alongside the group Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence, will host a breakout room on Zoom after worship. First Congregational is hosting a conversation that evening, “From Vigil to Vigilance,” about how they are being called – as individuals and as a congregation – to address gun violence.
Lamarche spoke before Boulder City Council Wednesday night, calling on the community, and others across the country, to channel its anger and grief into action.
“Getting through this pandemic has shown us that we can change and we can pivot and we can learn and we can innovate and we can do it quickly,” she said. “We can use science and policy and prayer to shift. We can harness our physical and spiritual energy toward a collective cause. We have shown that we can change, when we choose to.”
Call for legislation
The 21-year-old charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder after Monday’s massacre bought the AR-15 style weapon he used just six days before. Four days earlier, a judge blocked a ban on assault rifles passed by the city of Boulder.
The general minister and president of the UCC, which has long advocated responsible gun control legislation, said the time has come to get it done.
“I stand firmly with the vast majority of Americans who are demanding an end to gun violence and the passage of legislation that requires greater screening, longer waiting periods for background checks, and the elimination of rapid-fire guns,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer in a statement shared by the National Council of Churches. “While I do pray for the families whose loved ones were killed, those prayers mean little if they are not backed up with action and legislation that mitigate against the escalation of these domestic acts of terror and mass murder.”
Holy Week, other pastors as resources
The Rocky Mountain Conference gathered with Dorhauer on Zoom Tuesday morning after the shootings “to console one another and share our concerns and pain,” said the Rev. Sue Artt, Conference minister. “Our connectional is strong, and we show up for one another whenever someone is in need.”
Also Tuesday morning, Artt and Rev. Sarah Verasco, who pastors UCC Longmont in a neighboring city, helped set up a meeting for the clergy and staff of the Boulder churches with the Rev. Matt Crebin, pastor of Newtown Congregational Church, in Connecticut. He dealt trauma and grief after the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I was very touched by this spontaneous expression of care and support, and our ability to draw immediately on Matt’s hard-won wisdom about trauma – Sarah’s too,” Braudaway-Bauman said.
“Since we are about to enter Holy Week,” she noted, “we will be digging deeply into all the resources of our faith to help us as we walk through suffering and grief — from the parade of Palm Sunday to the table, the garden, the cross, the tomb, and the transforming love of Easter’s dawn.”
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