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Love Must Win

Reflecting on the events of June 16, 2022

Article by Pastor Rich Webster, St. Luke’s Episcopal

Photography by Illustration by Camilla Moss Designs

Originally published in Birmingham Lifestyle

In the land of the Bible, sheep graze in the fields but sleep safely in caves at night. The shepherd sleep outside at the entrance, protecting the flock and becoming a sort of living gate. 

As a shepherd — which is to say, as a preacher — which is to say, as a preacher of a suburban, idyllic neighborhood where nothing bad ever happens — I’m now faced, in the wake of the horrific murder at St. Stephens, with a new reality.

I’ll never forget the evening of June 16, 2022. One minute I was eating dinner at home, and suddenly I was throwing on a black shirt and joining a prayer circle in front of the Publix. We all knew the rector was out of the country and their other clergy were overwhelmed, and I was heartened to see other preachers and laity all gathered close.

In hindsight, it’s better to say the reality was always there; I’m just awakened to it now. Churches are friendly places, or at least supposed to be. My church sits in a quiet neighborhood. Our people are Galapagos Island Tortoises — they eat out of anyone’s hand because they have no predators. Until they do.

What happened to our sister congregation of St. Stephens suddenly brought those of us belonging to the cloth into a universe long-inhabited by school teachers and airlines: it is not enough to grow a flock; we must protect it, too. 

And while we offer our thoughts and prayers or wring our hands in frustration or post our outrage on Social Media, maybe a thought or two on how we got here will help. 

I’m convinced that we Americans have great capacity to love, except when it comes to each other. We have become divided to the point that we cannot trust or even bear differing points of view. 

That’s not exactly a news flash, but I’m learning things are more complicated than a sound bite. 

I heard an interview the other day that spoke volumes: an earnest reporter was pressing a 2nd amendment advocate to defend his position in the face of the school shooting in Texas. It was our national divide, writ large. 

“You don’t get it,” the man replied. “I would die for those children.” 

Meanwhile, we can yell at each other until we are blue in the face; we can scream for reform; we can demand legislation to end mass shootings; and so on. But let’s be honest — gun regulation is a dead issue for those who don’t trust the ones trying to regulate. 

The inertia of our elected leadership is merely a reflection of us: two sides of a zero sum culture with opposing sides to win at all costs. 

And while we are busy doing nothing, evil slips in and kills three churchgoers at a potluck. 

So what to do? At my church, at least, we will train our ushers and check on doors and try to be more vigilant. Our world has changed forever. And while we are working on our emergency response, I’ll keep preaching about love. Love that heals wounds and bridges gaps and strengthens the brokenhearted. That is what I can do. We must not lose hope. And love must win.

For more about the illustrator, visit Instagram @camillamossdesigns.