Blount Unitarians mourn July 27 shooting victims, celebrate spirit of love

Blount County Unitarian Universalists gathered Aug. 3 at Everett Senior Center to mourn those killed or injured in the July 27 shooting at the Knoxville church and to celebrate the spirit of love in their gathering.

Clergy from congregations throughout Blount County rose to speak and encourage those who packed the assembly room for the 6 p.m. Sunday service. It was a week to the day from when a gunman entered the Unitarian church on Kingston Pike, shot two and injured six.

Dr. Carl Gombert led the service and said they had come together to remember, repair and renew. “We come to remember loved ones fallen, to help loved ones and to take care of them in body and spirit,” he said. “We come to recall acts of bravery and compassion and to renew ourselves. We come together to find a way to point our feet to the path of forgiveness.”

Gombert said that in the face of anger, love is the answer. “In the face of hate and inexplicable cruelty and violence, love is the answer,” he said.

The Rev. Anne McKee, chaplain at Maryville College, encouraged those gathered. “We at Maryville College offer you our love and friendship,” she said.

Clergy from St. Paul Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, the Maryville Friends Church, Eusebia Presbyterian, New Providence Presbyterian and Highland Presbyterian shared words of encouragement with those gathered.

Owen Rhodes shared a message, a parable he entitled “Dark Waters.” The story was about a man named James who had trouble navigating a river. The different challenges the character faced represented the obstacles and events people encounter, “the choices we make and the consequences of those choices,” he said. “James represents a lost soul who is in a dark place.”

Rhodes said “dark voices” such as those heard by the main character in the parable encourage individuals to destroy each other just because of disagreements. Rhodes told the listeners not to allow the horrific acts of one to draw them away from carrying compassion to the downtrodden.

Rhodes told those listening that their “boat” had been nudged by last week’s events. “Our capacity to forgive is also being put to the test,” he said.

Rhodes said forgiveness isn’t a gift but a medicine against fear and resentment. “The sugar that helps it go down is the recognition of the dignity and history of other people. I encourage you to take that medicine.”

The Rev. Kevin L. Strickland, pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, said that regardless if an individual agrees with another’s theology, doctrine or creed, everyone is a different part of one body. “We support one another when the body is broken and that’s what it means to be a child of God,” he said.

The Rev. Emily Anderson, pastor of New Providence Presbyterian Church, said it was very important for area clergy to be on hand. “In tragedy, we need each other,” she said. “It’s unfortunate it takes a tragedy to express that. I’m grateful to be here to express it.”

Gombert was thankful for the area clergy’s presence. “It’s incredibly important we remember we’re all in this together,” he said.

Well wishes from around the world have encouraged the Unitarians. “It’s incredible the amount of love and support,” Gombert said. “I can’t even begin to describe it.”

While the Blount County Unitarian Universalist congregation recovers from the shock of the July 28 shooting in Knoxville, they are forging ahead with their plans to become an independent stand-alone congregation in Blount County. They plan to celebrate their charter on Oct. 19.

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