Las Vegas church finds simple gifts in tragedy
University United Methodist Church, Las Vegas, is located near the Strip and across the street from the University of Nevada Las Vegas main campus. We have several regular attendees who live, work, and attend school in that area. Also, immediately following the news of the shootings at the Route 91 Festival, our church community began to check in with as many persons as we knew could be involved.
Among those we thought of were two out-of-state visitors who had joined us for worship earlier that day, on World Communion Sunday. We had learned that they were United Methodists and were in Las Vegas to attend the Route 91 Festival. That weekend they had felt a peculiarly strong nudge to take time out to attend worship, and they had found us. Regular guests are one of the unique blessings of University Church, as we routinely welcome visitors to Las Vegas in worship on Sundays and Wednesdays.
In the hours after the shooting, we were unable to contact them. So we continued to wonder and pray throughout the morning. During the afternoon, we received a call from our two guests, to let us know they were safe and asked if it would be all right if they came by to see us. We had already opened our sanctuary up to the community for prayer, music, and conversation, and of course, we welcomed our friends to come.
They arrived at the church, visibly shaken and unable to speak about the experience at all. However, over a period of several hours, sitting quietly in the sanctuary, they began to reach out to us and to slowly process out loud, telling their story and identifying feelings. We understood this was a beginning place for the healing process, and we felt the deep, affirming, and restoring Grace that works so miraculously through the connection. Later in the evening, our guests also expressed gratitude for the unmistakable sense of God’s presence with them. The nudge to attend worship on Sunday was by God’s grace. They had found grounding in prayer and in sharing the bread and cup, in unity with this local congregation and Christians all around the world. Gathering with strangers, now friends had provided nourishment that sustained them in their fear and distress, and it brought them back into the comforting fold of Grace where healing could begin.
There are numerous stories of parishioners who teach on campus, offering comfort and support to distraught students. One of our folks even took her therapy dog to her class, and instead of lecturing, she shared the gift of canine comfort and companionship with her students. UNLV staff set up beautiful processing spaces around campus and invited the University Church community to sit with students as they came throughout the day. Students shared their experiences, and we listened and affirmed. Many students were at the venue, or they had friends who were there, many hearing the sirens all night long as rescuers brought folks to get them out of harm’s way to the nearby Thomas and Mack Arena.
Students especially expressed a new appreciation for life, and for their family and friends, along with deep sorrow for those who were killed and injured. Walking on campus with United Methodist student, Dior DeSormeau, I asked if she also noticed that there was a heightened air of generosity and kindness on the campus during the week following this tragedy.
She agreed, stating, “since the shootings, I have noticed we all spend less time walking around with our phones in front of our faces. We seem to be looking out and thinking of the people around us. I think that is something good that’s come out of this tragedy. I hope it lasts.”
Dior also commented that she realized that a greeting that meant one thing on Sunday morning meant something much more significant on Monday morning.
“I realized that ‘Hello, It is so good to see you,’ on Monday morning was more than an obligatory gesture. When we said it this time, we looked each other in the eye, and we meant it!”’
There are more stories of Grace, but they are not mine to tell—like how friends of friends on Facebook, connected someone whose family member was critical, undergoing surgery, asking for prayer. Showing up to pray and sit with the family. Walking prayerfully down the hospital hallway, intentional to hold a tiny space of non-anxious presence, when the walls are lined three-people deep with patients and families waiting to receive care. Praying in the hospital parking lot with a worried father and uncle who happened to be waiting to take a daughter home to California, with a bullet still lodged in her back.
These are not my stories, but they are some of the stories shared by colleagues and friends in this community of faith—a city made holy by the Grace of God, through sharing simple gifts of presence. Like the bread and cup of Holy Communion, these gifts are blessed and multiplied in the community. Christ is made known, right here in the urban area of Las Vegas, where millions of visitors come and go every year, and thousands of students, staff, faculty, and families call home.
LOVE really does overcome all evil.
Rev. Susan Holden is the Associate Pastor at University United Methodist Church and Campus Minister at UNLV, 4412 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89119. She can be reached by phone at 702.733.7155 (office).
The church vision statement is: University United Methodist Church inspires multicultural unity, inclusivity, and faith by using our gifts and talents while serving our greater community. Read more at the church's website or the website for the Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church. .