B. J. buzzed me on Wednesday afternoon and said, “There’s been a shooting up on the corner.” From my office I can hear shots from the north, south and west, but the church blocks the sound from the east, so I hadn’t heard the shots. She pointed out the front of the rectory toward the corner of 58th and Euclid, cattycorner from the church. “Get the holy water and meet me there,” I told her, and took off running. The sirens were coming from every direction. I don’t know how she did it, but it seemed like B.J. got here just moments after I did. The police were jumping out of their cars and running in our direction. Before they were able to stop me I was able to pray, “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world, in the name of the Father who created you, in the name of the Son who redeemed you, and in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctified you. And may your resting place today be with the saints in paradise.” At least that’s what I was trying to say, but with the sobs and the anger at another stupid killing, I know I didn’t get it all said before the police were yelling to get back from the car and rolling out their crime scene tape. At least I was able to do the minimum that priests do, before the tragic end of another sacred life became a crime scene, not a church and not a deathbed.
Then there were choices to be made. What do you do when there’s been a shooting at your church? This certainly wasn’t part of my seminary training. Certainly there was the work of being pastor, checking in with church staff. The neighbors started coming outside to look up the street and wonder what was going on, so I walked down Euclid to speak with them. Sr. Ann Landers was out with the neighbors, too. The crime scene was so large that I couldn’t walk up Euclid to see the neighbors outside on the north side of 58th Street, or those who were east on 58th Street.
What else should we do? Do we lay low and hope that no one notices? Having a murder practically on the church steps is not the kind of publicity a church needs. Too many people are needlessly afraid of taking a step east of Troost already. But the maddening thing is that this was the third killing since I’ve been here – just a little over four years. About three years ago a man was shot late one Saturday night as he walked east on 59th Street, and was able to stumble over beside the school in front of the convent before he died. We kept that one quiet, not wanting to upset people at Mass the next day. Then last fall, during the afternoon just after school had let out, two young men exchanged shots on Michigan Avenue, just a few houses south of the school. One of them died in a pool of blood. Happening just before the evening news, there was no way to keep that one quiet.
Our decision to speak up this time was not made by one person, and it was not pre-planned. It came partly out of the grief and anger at this murder, the 63rd killing in Kansas City so far this year. Do we speak out, and if we speak out, what do we say? B. J. was there, and Estelle Tunley. Eva Schulte and Jerry Jones were upstairs with their CCO team. They were ready to drop everything and help plan the response. Does this call for a political action or spiritual action? In our conversations, inside, outside, on the fly, we realized that 63 murders would not be tolerated in Leawood; there would be a community response from every corner of society that would determine the cause, respond to it, and put an end to it. Why do we tolerate such an outrage in Kansas City?
We decided that even though a political response is necessary, we needed to pray and to mourn for the tragic loss of this sacred life, of this man whose name we didn’t even know. We decided on a prayer vigil for the next evening at 6:30. Eva knew we needed to reach out immediately to a wider circle of our neighbors, so they quickly printed flyers and began to visit the homes on the blocks around the church. Notifying church members and neighborhood residents was not easy, and I apologize to everyone who would have responded if you had heard. I am also grateful to everyone who responded and came to pray and honor the victims.
Reducing the violence will also take political power. Pastor Emeritus Wallace Hartsfield, Sr. said that people groan, then they moan, then they speak, and then they shout. We need to remember our grief and anger to motivate us to work together with hope and faith. It seems to me that we need to ask our political leaders two questions: “What can be done to reduce the violence. Why aren’t we doing it.”
If you would like an opportunity to find out how to ask those questions and others in ways that can help bring about the change we need, please join us at St. Therese on Saturday, August 13, at 10:00 a.m. in the Church Hall.