Newton Cowan, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

Monday at 1:11 pm my wife and I received a text message from our daughter at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The text read, “there’s an armed person on campus, I’m at home, but just in case you saw the alert.”

I began to get online and realize the magnitude of what was going on with the massive police presence and lots of rumors circulating.  These are events that we read about in other places, and we pray for those affected, but unfortunately I move on and don’t think much about it.

But this time was different.  A lone gunman carried out a cowardly act of killing professor Dr. Zijie Yan in his office. Around 4:15 pm an all clear was sent through UNC.  The suspect was in custody, but it wasn’t over, in fact in many ways it continues now.  The media will move on to the hurricane and another shooting somewhere else (most likely).

I used to think, when this happened in other places, well it was a targeted attack, sad, very sad, but not a mass shooting that can seem so random.  I won’t say this again.  Because now I know more about the ripple effects of such an act.  Like throwing a rock in a pond, the ripple effects go on and on.  The professor’s family, the colleagues in the building and all the faculty, the students in that building and every building in fact anywhere on campus, the town of Chapel Hill, the first responders, the parents and on and on and on.  You get the picture.

This event has shaken me to the core, and I am not really sure why, but it struck a nerve.  I felt helpless and worried about the campus of UNC and especially the students.  Last Tuesday night I went to Chapel Hill, the campus seemed quiet, classes canceled.  I had dinner with our daughter and 5 of her friends.  We sat around the table and simple asked, “what was it like for you?”

They began to share their individual experiences.  Not really believing it was true until they knew about the police presence.  About students and staff stepping up to make sure everyone was as safe as possible. The news has been full of stories of students hiding in bathrooms and closets and under desks.  The police went from room to room to sweep the buildings.

The parents, like us, worried.  The faculty continued mourning the loss of one of their own.  While the event is “over” the ripple effects are not.  And so, as people of faith we wonder, what are we supposed to do?

As people of faith we turn to God, which we ought to do each day, but particularly in times of challenge.  We begin with prayer.  We pray for the students and faculty of UNC and for Dr. Yan’s family, we pray that God would continue to surround them with love, and peace and an army of people to help carry the burdens and grief and the trauma.  We pray for those with hardened hearts, who contemplate violence as a solution, we pray that God would remind them they are loved, and we pray that they would seek a different path.

Paul writes in Romans 12:21, Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.  The light of God will never be put out.  Darkness and evil will not win.  In response what good can we do?

Several weeks ago, we sang the following hymn at 11 am worship.  I commend these words to you.

Come to me, O weary traveler,
come to me with your distress,
come to me you heavy burdened,
come to me and find your rest.

Do not fear, my yoke is easy,
do not fear, my burden’s light;
do not fear the path before you;
do not run from me in fright.

Take my yoke and leave your troubles;
take my yoke and come with me.
Take my yoke, I am beside you;
take and learn humility.

Rest in me, O weary traveler,
rest in me and do not fear.
Rest in me, my heart is gentle,
rest and cast away your care.

— Sylvia Dunstan