In an unusual gathering of people representing diverse religious beliefs, the entire community of Knoxville began the healing process Monday night following Sunday’s tragic church shooting.
Where violence had reigned Sunday after police said Jim David Adkisson opened fire inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and killed two people, peace and love flowed from the hilltop Second Presbyterian Church next door.
Some 1,000-2,000 people had poured into the handsome church building off Kingston Pike approximately a mile west of the University of Tennessee campus, and dozens had to stand along the side aisles and back of the nave.
The healing event, which lasted less than an hour amid a violent thunderstorm outside, featured brief meditations and prayers by the TVUUC’s minister, the Rev. Chris Buice, and other Knoxville Unitarian Universalist ministers.
Flying in from out of town Monday afternoon and offering remarks as well was the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the numerous Unitarian Universalist congregations throughout the United States.
At one point during his talk, he asked those from the TVUUC church to raise their hands, and a few hundred did. After asking Second Presbyterian and later local Jewish representatives to raise their hands, he then recognized those from other congregations as well as those not associated with a church.
After about half the gatherers raised their hands, the others broke into an appreciative applause.
Toward the end of the service, as the lights were dimmed, everyone lighted his or her candle, similar to a Christmas Eve service.
The final part of the service was a surprise, but was very touching to the audience members.
Pianist Vicki Masters broke into the famous final song of “Annie Jr.,” and a number of children who had been in the church when the shooting occurred enthusiastically sang, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”
As they finished, the crowd members broke into a loud applause, as if they had witnessed a stirring Broadway play. The children also jumped up and down and hugged each other.
A small-but-obvious act of closure had taken place following a two-hour debriefing session before the service.
“Annie Jr.” was the production the children wee presenting when the gunman walked into the church about 10:15 a.m. Sunday and opened fire, killing Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger and causing injury to seven others.
The pianist Masters had also conducted the summer workshop at the church that had culminated with the “Annie Jr.” performance.
Now living in Knoxville, I had been to a special outdoor worship service Sunday morning with my wife, Laura, at First United Methodist Church’s pavilion alongside the Tennessee River less than a quarter of a mile from the Unitarian Universalist church and less than an hour before the shooting occurred.
I had gone on to Sunday school and church at my regular church, Church Street United Methodist, on the other side of the UT campus. I heard a siren go by on at least one occasion, but did not think much about it.
As I was getting ready to leave, a fellow church member said someone had gone into the Unitarian Universalist church up the road and began shooting. I suddenly had a sinking feeling in my heart and knew the tragedy would be national news.
It ended up being the lead story on the national news broadcasts I watched Sunday evening and Monday morning.
When I drove past there early Sunday afternoon, a number of television cameramen and reporters were already in front of the church interviewing people.
While passing there Monday afternoon, I spotted NBC News correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Feeling a heavy heart, I definitely wanted to be at the candelight vigil Monday night, as did Laura.
Evidently, so did hundreds of other members of the greater Knoxville community.