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Teens gather back at Wedgwood with joy, cheers, music & tears

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Nearly 900 young people gathered at Wedgwood Baptist Church Dec. 1 to pick up where a youth rally was cut off Sept. 15 when seven church members were killed by a deranged gunman, who also injured seven others before taking his own life.

And once again, the Fort Worth, Texas, church was in the nation’s media — giving the youth and other Wedgwood members an opportunity to reiterate a faith rooted in Jesus Christ that can transcend tragedy.

The Associated Press recounted:

“The young people were excited as Wedgwood Baptist Church filled with live music. The audience swayed, cheered and laughed.” Then came tears, as the Christian band Forty Days began playing the same song, “I Will Call Upon the Lord,” that they were playing Sept. 15 when Larry Gene Ashbrook broke into the See You at the Pole rally, wielding two pistols and a pipe bomb.

“Eleven weeks later, more than 800 people attended the concert on Wednesday to celebrate the church’s recovery — twice the number there the night of the shooting,” the Associated Press recounted.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, meanwhile, called the Dec. 1 rally “a joyous outpouring of faith peppered with tears and hugs.”

The church’s youth minister, Jay Fannin, read a letter from the family of one of the victims, Susan “Kim” Jones, voicing hope that the Wedgwood tragedy would become “an event that will begin to change the course of history.”

“Let Wedgwood be a wake-up call,” the family wrote.

Jones was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as was another of the victims, Shawn Brown; a third victim, Sydney Browning, the church’s children’s choir director, was a 1991 graduate of the seminary.

Wedgwood pastor Al Meredith told Baptist Press Dec. 2 it was “important that they finish the concert that they started … . It was originally intended to praise God and call people to the Savior. And they completed that assignment last night. It was also important for kids and parents to come back to the scene of the tragedy and praise God through it safely. It was part of the healing process.”

Families of some of the people who were killed were in attendance and felt they needed to be there, Meredith said.

The pastor reflected, “…you don’t want to minimize people’s grief, but you don’t want to minimize God’s grace.

“Some students can’t concentrate. Some still sleep with a night light on. Some parents are still angry. The grief is very palpable with the holiday season. So I don’t want to minimize that, but God is giving grace,” Meredith said. “And we’re still being able to give evidence of God’s grace. God has given an open door of witness and opportunity and we’re grateful for it.”

The AP quoted Fannin as saying, “You think that [the tragedy] would have separated us, that nobody would have wanted to come back to our church. Instead, we have been drawn closer together as a body, as a youth group and as a family of God.

“Yes, [Ashbrook] took seven lives, but none of them are lost,” Fannin told the AP. “We know exactly where they are.”

Fannin told the Star-Telegram that Wedgwood’s youth programs haven’t lost any participants, but rather, have grown in attendance. Prior to the tragedy, he recounted, youth services had topped 100 only once. “Since the shooting, I have had [only] one Sunday where it was under 100,” Fannin told the newspaper.

Young people discuss the shooting, but that doesn’t dominate their gatherings, he told the Star-Telegram.

“Every time they come to church they are reminded of that,” Fannin was quoted as saying. “They realize that God’s presence and God’s power are the reasons they are still alive and because of that they want to tell everybody about God and how he is very real.”

David Porter & Tammy Rosson contributed to this article.