Special Reports

Wichita service in the wake of George Tiller's fatal shooting tries to help community heal

An interfaith service held Friday in the wake of George Tiller's fatal shooting drew more than 300 people to a downtown Wichita church.

Amid the prayers and words and songs, a scene played out that reflected the message of that service.

It came when Rabbi Nissim Wernick of the Hebrew Congregation invited all who attended to come forward and light a candle as a symbol of how light can drive out darkness, how good can triumph over evil.

Those who attended got in lines, then proceeded to the front of First United Methodist Church to light the small candles while a soloist sang "You Raise Me Up."

The service, organized by several Wichita area faith organizations -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- was called an "Interfaith Service of Prayer and Reconciliation."

Its goal, organizers said, was to bring healing to a community experiencing pain, confusion and anxiety.

"We need not surrender to violence or hatred or hurting one another," said the Rev. Michael Gardner, the pastor of First United Methodist Church and one of the service's organizers. "Rather, the light and hope of God can lead us to a brighter day."

The service opened with a hymn, "All Creatures of Our God and King." It featured prayers and comments from several religious leaders.

Tiller's name or family was mentioned at least twice -- once by the Rev. David Fulton, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, and another time by Pastor Ben Staley of Northridge Friends Church.

Staley asked God for peace and comfort, "especially for Dr. Tiller and his family" and for the staff and congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church. Tiller attended church there and was killed while he served as an usher on Sunday.

Todd Krehbiel attended the service with his mother, Ernestine.

"I felt it was important that we as a community and a community of faith be able to come to grips with this tragedy," he said, "and to be able to see a way forward from it that is based in harmony and peace."

He said that even though people and groups have differences, he hoped the service could serve as a reminder to find common ground and seek it in peaceful ways.

"The way forward is... through civil dialogue and a common belief in faith and a God that doesn't believe in violence as a way to reconcile issues or disagreements," he said.

The service's sponsoring groups were Inter-Faith Ministries of Wichita, Heartland Transformation Ministry Network, Micah 6:8 Fellowship of Downtown Clergy, the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation and the Wichita Chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.