Our weekly Vespers on Tuesday transformed into a vigil in response to the Virginia Tech tragedy. We have members who are alumni, parents of alumni, or relatives of students. The photo above shows the center candles which were lit in honor of those who died. The colored pieces of paper had the names of the victims as we knew them. Not all names had been released, but there were cards representing all of the victims.
We also lit a candle for the shooter acknowledging our human connection to him and in the hopes that his story will not repeat itself in someone else's life. Those in attendance then lit candles representing the outreaching connections the living have to the dead, and the power of community to offer hope and healing.
The incredibly talented guitarist Charles Arthur, a Virginia Tech graduate, played during the service. Two local acivists for non-violence also graciously participated in the service. Adria Scharf of the Richmond Peace Education Center read a selection from the Dhammapada on non-violence. Kristin Hott of Not With These Hands read a selection from a Christian prayer. In addition to my prepared comments, I read words by Gandhi. The theme of the service was from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: We shall hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.
Our congregation is partnered with Not With These Hands in their efforts to have the Richmond community consider, teach, practice, and celebrate non-violence. As part of that process Richmonders have been asked to write pledges of non-violence. There was an opportunity within the service to write a pledge, or a word of hope for peace. After the service, Kristin had prepared tables where people could draw visions of peace and reconciliation to be included in a Not With These Hands quilt.
We also encouraged our members to write words of hope and support for our Blacksburg congregation. My partner in ministry spent Monday through Wednesday at the Blacksburg fellowship to assist their leadership as their minister is on sabbatical. I carried our congregation's condolences and well-wishes when I arrived in Blacksburg Wednesday afternoon to lead their candlelight vigil.
Virginia Tech is the home of SUUSI which is our religious summer camp. Last year over 45 members of our cingregation and their families attended SUUSI, 11 of them were my family. I have been regularly attending SUUSI for over a decade. The dormitory where the first shootings were on Monday is one of the many Virginia Tech lets us use. Four generations of my family, dozens in my congregation, and my SUUSI friends all over the country have years of happy memories of Virginia Tech.
SUUSI is the second largest annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists in the world, and Virginia Tech has worked at length to make it feel like home to us. We mourn with them this horrible tragedy.