HESSTON – Several hundred people gathered Sunday night in the Hesston High School gymnasium to pray, light candles and sing.
It was called the Harvey County Community Service of Sorrow and Hope.
The gymnasium was nearly packed.
Before the service began, the audience was reminded to note all emergency exits of the gym, in case they were needed.
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“It is tempting to think darkness descended on this community,” said John Murray, pastor at the Hesston Mennonite Church. “But the truth is the darkness has always been here. It stirs within each one of us, especially in times of trauma.
“At times the darkness lies within us, hidden from hidden from families, friends and neighbors. Hidden from co-workers and even from our own selves. Frequently the darkness hides in plain sight, simply because we don’t stop to think about the prejudice or indifference we happen to communicate through our assumptions about life.”
At times, Murray said, such as the shooter’s actions on Thursday, the “collective darkness bursts forward in graphic and traumatic ways.”
It is tempting to ask why.
He encouraged the audience to remember the passages from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 references of faith, hope and love.
Fourteen candles were lit for each of the people wounded by the shooter’s bullets.
Four candles were lit for those who died, including the shooter.
As the names of those who died were read, people dabbed at their eyes and tears slid down their cheeks. A schoolgirl went throughout the audience handing out tissues. Parents held children in their arms.
Others were also prayed for – those individuals between Newton and Hesston who were affected by the shootings on Thursday, the Excel employees along with their spouses and children who were not injured but who experienced trauma and will need to return to the workplace, the law enforcement officers who arrived at the scene during the height of the chaos, the EMS workers, the Hesston middle school and elementary and faculty and staff at Hesston College who experienced lock-downs of the schools on Thursday.
Throughout the service, the Hesston College Bel Canto Singers provided music.
“I speak to you today of sorrow,” said pastor Gary Blaine. “For sorrow was the first emotion that wrenches our gut, that clutches our throat in the face of a mass shooting. Within the explosion of sorrow, we are likely to feel anger, fear, confusion, guilt, doubt, frustration and profound grief. Sorrow shakes the foundation of our souls and our faith trembles.”