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Southwestern mourns loss; celebrates Jesus

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary mourned its loss, but celebrated its Savior in memorial services on campus Thursday morning.
Students, faculty and friends packed the 1,600-seat Truett Auditorium as they remembered the deaths of three of their own and the severe injury to two more by a gunman who opened fire at Wedgwood Baptist Church during services Wednesday night.
Of the eight who died — including the gunman — and seven who were wounded, five were either current or recent students of the seminary.
Participants sobbed, hugged, applauded, sang, prayed and even cheered as they turned the regular Thursday morning chapel service into both a memorial and a celebration of Jesus Christ.
“This was a regular chapel service; we have such services each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but today it turned into a wonderful memorial service,” said David Porter, vice president for public relations of the seminary.
Seminary President Ken Hemphill set the tone as he prayed, with his voice breaking, asking God to “be present in our grief … suffering and sorrow” but remembering, too, that in God’s presence is “our hope and our power.”
Hemphill, Wedgwood pastor Al Meredith and Little Rock pastor Rex Horne, spoke briefly to the students.
The service began with participants singing a medley of favorite hymns: “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” “Glory to his Name,” “My Jesus I Love Thee.”
The songs were reverent, hushed and almost dirge-like as those present remembered Shawn Brown, 23, who was studying to be a youth minister; Kim Jones, 23; and Sydney R. Browning, 36, a Fort Worth teacher and children’s choir director at Wedgwood Baptist Church.
They thought, too, of the injured: Jeff Laster, a diploma student who was a custodian at the church and thought to be the first person shot; and Kevin Galey, a doctoral student and teaching fellow who was minister of counseling at the church.
Hemphill wept as he called the dead Southwesterners “martyrs,” and then told the students that in the midst of their sorrow and grief, “there are some things that we know.
“We know that God is still on his throne … that death and devastation are tactics of the adversary (Satan) … that the resurrection is a sure and certain reality … and that our fellow students are already present with the Lord.
“We know that our Lord is an ever present help in time of trouble. There are no easy answers, but we know that he will bring solace,” he said.
Hemphill said the tragedy shows the “need for a spiritual awakening. We need revival to end this senseless violence, so that our children will be free to walk our streets … feel safe in church and in school.
“I urge you to pray as you have never prayed and witness as you have never witnessed.”
He called the participants to a time of prayer, and for more than 10 minutes, they prayed. Some sat silently, with folded hands in laps. Some knelt at the front of the bare auditorium, and still others prayed in groups of twos, threes, fours and clusters. Some lifted hands to heaven.
At the end of the prayer, they sang “a hymn of victory” and their voices swelled as they sang “Amazing Grace … how sweet the sound.”
At the end, they applauded, then shouted and then cheered for several minutes.
Meredith told of the three who had died and said he had known all three well.
He told of Kim Jones, who had only become a Christian two and a half years ago, but had “really come to know the Lord” when she was converted.
“On the night before her death, she led a Bible study for her old sorority sisters and begged them to accept Christ as their personal savior.”
Shawn (Brown), a graduate of Howard Payne University, was a youth minister, and “came to seminary to learn better how to win kids to the Lord.” Meredith told how Brown and his wife taught fifth grade Sunday school, and recently taught in Vacation Bible School.
When a single mom with children in the fifth and sixth grades called the church to ask for a visit from someone, Meredith said he without hesitation sent the Browns to see her.
Meredith called Sydney Browning “a special woman. She loved the Lord; she defined commitment.” He told how she directed the children’s choir at the church, and since she was sitting in the foyer when the gunman arrived, was among the first killed in the rampage.
‘They called her ‘Squib,” he said.
Meredith told the participants it is a time of pressure, but reminded them that what they really are is demonstrated when they are under pressure.
“You don’t squeeze an orange and get Dr. Pepper. What you have on the inside is what shows when you are under pressure,” he added.
As he spoke, he began to sing the old gospel hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and the participants joined in, acapella.
Horne, who had been scheduled some time ago to be the chapel speaker in services Sept. 16, told participants that for many of those killed or injured in the spray of gunfire, the day had begun with a celebration around the school flagpoles.
“It started with ‘See You At The Pole,’ and then became ‘See you in church,’ and finally moved on to ‘See You in Heaven’.”
He talked of heaven, and told the participants “while we weep, they are laughing; while we miss them, they are having a great reunion, and while we have memorial services, they have a great celebration.”

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  • Dan Martin