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Local vigil gathers for Tenn. UU victims

By |2008-08-07T09:00:00-04:00August 7th, 2008|Uncategorized|

They came to grieve and grasp at understanding in the wake of senseless tragedy, to find comfort and consolation in their common pain. Three days after the shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., more than 50 people came out to a vigil at historic First UU Church in Detroit to remember their fallen brothers.

Spirit of Life (#123, UU hymnal)

“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are grieving and hurt in Knoxville tonight,” said Drew Johnston, First UU’s senior minister. “We know that when they are hurt, we are hurt as well. What we will do together this evening is to approach honestly our own feelings, and make ourselves stronger for our own futures. Our faith provides two most powerful resources to accomplish this – love, and hope.”
Johnston read aloud the names of the two people who were killed in the shooting incident, which took place in the middle of a children’s performance of “Annie,” – as well the seven others who were injured. He also called out the name of Jim David Adkisson, the man who carried a 12-guage shotgun into the church in a guitar case and later opened fire upon the crowd.
“We know that the perpetrator of this violence was wounded in some deep way that influenced his actions,” Johnston said.
Adkinsson, who later confessed that he targeted the church because of their liberal beliefs and, specifically, their acceptance of gays, said in a note that he planned to be killed by authorities at the scene. Instead, he was tackled by members of the congregation. Greg McKendry, who stepped in front of Adkinsson while he was firing, died at the church. Meanwhile, Linda Kreager, who also sustained a gunshot wound, died later at the hospital.
“He failed to account for the courage of Greg McKendry,” said Johnston.

Peace Like a River (#100, UU hymnal)

But while Adkinsson was stopped before he could act out the kind of massacre he envisioned, the amount of damage he did was substantial. Indeed, there were some 200 in the church when Adkinsson opened fire, and Johnston pointed out that each walked out of it scarred for life. But Adkisson’s path of destruction reached far beyond the church, the city of Knoxville and the state of Tennessee. He sent a shockwave of fear soaring across the country.
“Some of us now carry more fear than we did before,” Johnston told the crowd. “At one moment proud of our position as a church that welcomes and affirms liberals and LGBT folks; the next moment feeling targeted and vulnerable. I think ‘fish in a barrel’ comes to mind. As a progressive queer UU professional, I may be expressing my personal fear more than anything, but we all want and need to feel safe – especially in church – and I feel less safe than before.”
Kathleen LaTosch, chief administrative officer for Affirmations, also spoke of fear to the crowd.
“While the feeling of fear and anxiety is very real and very natural, let’s take a moment to envision a different reality,” she said. “One that is safe, warm, accepting. One that is loving and free from threat. One that accepts people for who they are and embraces their differences. And let’s remember that we can, both individually and collectively, create this reality.”

May Nothing Evil Cross This Door (#1, UU hymnal)

Also in attendance was Azuka Milledge, interim pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of Detroit, which meets in the First UU building.
“I came out to join in the unifying spirit of keeping on with the endeavor to help eradicate oppression,” she said. “This is a reminder how important our work is.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.