Uvalde prays on the first Sunday since the school shooting

TEn-year-old Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia planned to recite a Bible verse from Deuteronomy 6:18 at Primera Iglecia Bautista (First Baptist Church) Sunday service on May 29, killing 24 her and 18 of her classmates and two teachers. Instead, three of her Sunday school friends recited the verse in her honor, with an image of Ellie projected behind them.

Much of Uvalde spent Sunday mornings attending church services and grieving together the loss of 21 beloved parishioners. In this devout city — 85% of people identify themselves as a denomination of Christianity, according to a 2020 Public Religion Research Institute of American Religion census — many have sought healing through faith. In some churches, religiously-affiliated licensed chaplains from other parts of Texas and even as far away as Ohio have been called in to help the bereaved.

Photos of Lexi Rubio (left) and Eliahna Garcia, students at Robb Elementary School who were killed in the recent mass shooting, are projected during a service at Iglecia Bautista church May 29, 2022.

David Butow – Redux

Continue reading: “It’s too late for prayer.” Uvalde faith leaders are called upon to help a community face the unimaginable

In the four services TIME attended in Uvalde on Sunday morning, a common message was clear: Church leaders preached forgiveness and the assurance that loved ones who died would be seen again.

At the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church’s first Sunday morning Mass, Father Eduardo Morales reminded the congregation of the biblical story of Jesus Christ’s Ascension—the story of when Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven after being crucified. Jesus’ disciples would never know him in flesh and blood again, Morales said, but they would know him spiritually. “We need to share this with the families of those who lost a loved one this week,” he said. “Those we lost will always be with us… If we keep talking about them, they live on.”

David Hernandez, left, prays with his wife Mary May 29, 2022 at the Templo Cristiano church.

David Butow for ZEIT

Three women listen to a sermon at St Philip’s Episcopal Church on May 29, 2022.

David Butow for ZEIT

The large, elegant hall was packed with at least 100 people and the spectators burst into tears. But they sang and hugged each other throughout the service.

A few blocks away, at the Templo Cristiano (Christian Temple), a tree-town church, a Spanish service began commemorating the victims of the shooting. “We are all in shock here, we are all crying for our family, our friends, we are all suffering, we are all crying,” said a woman who led the beginning of the service, in Spanish. “We must remember that Jesus wept too.”

Continue reading: These are the victims of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas

After prayer and song, a member of Tree City Church’s national church crisis response team, who traveled to Uvalde from Ohio and was introduced as a licensed professional counselor and elementary school counselor, offered practical advice on signs of stress that could be combined with the spiritual guidance: “If You have trouble breathing or chest pains,” she said in English, pausing for a translator, “you may need to see a doctor with these symptoms.”

Meanwhile, at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, white-robed clergy prepared for the 10:30 a.m. Eucharist. Outside the stone church, members hugged before walking down the aisle. Some choir members burst into tears. “This community is responding together at times like this,” says Beverly Heyen, who has lived in Uvalde for 15 years and is a member of St Philip’s. “Our hearts go out to everyone, and everyone is connected in some way… and this church is a part of that.”

A memorial in a park in the center of Uvalde on May 26, 2022.

David Butow – Redux

Churches and schools form the backbone of Uvalde, says Heyen. For example, St. Philip’s works with other churches in the area to organize food donations and other community services. Churches across the city held community events and opened prayer rooms ahead of Sunday services. The First Presbyterian Church held a “Parking Lot Prayers” event Friday and invited members to write a prayer on ribbon that could be tied to a chain link fence. On Saturday night, people gathered in the town square to pray while Sacred Heart set up its backyard theater for people to gather, sing, pray and remember those killed.

Continue reading: “There is a void.” Uvalde’s victim’s great-grandfather, Lexi Rubio, reminisces about her 10-year life

Members of the Primera Iglecia Bautista, where Ellie was to have her Bible reading, spent Saturday preparing packed lunches to give away to anyone who wanted one. By 11 a.m. Sunday, the church –– a modest building with plain beige walls and pews still unlocked — was filled with about 80 people. Pastor Carlos Cisneros stood in front of the congregation and led them to prayer. He told them that he begins preparing each Sunday sermon a week in advance. Although the tragedy dramatically changed the tone of Tuesday’s service, he decided to stick to his plan of quoting Bible verses from the book of Isaiah “because all the words of God apply,” he says.

Churchgoers pray after the service at Iglecia Bautista church on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

David Butow for ZEIT

Cisneros fixed a line of the verse: “Here I am. Send me.” The line, he told the community, reflects the spirit of the people of Uvalde. “Uvalde is strong because we are people who say, ‘Here I am, send me,'” he said. “I’ll bring someone a plate of food, I’ll go and pray for someone, I’ll call someone just to say I love them. Here I am, send me.”

Outside, President Joe Biden’s motorcade drove by en route to Sacred Heart Church for their midday service. In the middle of a hymn, the congregation of Primera Iglecia Bautista took little notice, instead focusing on the community who had gathered in the plain wooden pews to commemorate Ellie and her classmates and join their voices in song.

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