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Texas Baptist ministers help Wedgwood family

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–From the time Pam Minatrea woke up Sept. 15, she felt an inexplicable need to pray for the safety of the young people around the state who were gathering in schoolyards for “See You At the Pole” prayer meetings. She told her husband, Milfred, about her uneasy feeling.
About twelve hours later, Milfred Minatrea, director of church ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was coordinating the faith community’s response to hurting families after a gunman burst into a youth prayer rally and shot 15 people.
Minatrea initially learned about the shooting at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church from a televised news bulletin. He immediately started trying to reach Tom Law, director of missions at Tarrant Baptist Association, to offer crisis counseling services.
While Minatrea was attempting to call Law, Ted Elmore of the BGCT evangelism division made a personal contact. Elmore, prayer coordinator for the BGCT, currently serves as interim pastor at a church in Tarrant Baptist Association, and he arrived to pray with members and leaders of the grieving sister church.
As a former police officer, Elmore also was able to minister to several law enforcement personnel and emergency workers. The tragedy hit the police, EMS workers and firemen especially hard, he observed.
“You’re used to seeing dead bodies. You’re not used to seeing dead kids in church,” he said.
Elmore also talked to Law about the services that Minatrea and his staff could provide in group crisis intervention, pastoral counseling and community ministry, and the director of missions requested his help.
When Minatrea arrived at the scene soon after 8 p.m., he recognized the church campus had become the temporary property of the state. It was, after all, the scene of a crime against the state.
But Minatrea felt impressed that it had also been a crime against the faith community, and no allowance was being made for people of faith to minister to their own during the immediate criminal investigation.
“Please, let us own our grief,” Minatrea pleaded with the officials in charge.
Steve Abbott, director of emergency services with the American Red Cross, heard Minatrea’s appeal and agreed with him. Together, they made sure that every victim’s family was placed not only with a licensed mental health professional, but also with a pastoral care provider.
Gene Grounds, field coordinator of restorative justice ministries with Texas Baptist Men, along with several Baptist chaplains, a Baptist Student Ministry director and counselors from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spent the night ministering to the families. The ministers kept vigil with them during their long hours of waiting and offered comfort when death notices were delivered.
Bobby Cox, associate director of missions for Tarrant Baptist Association, was stationed at John Peter Smith Hospital throughout the night, helping provide pastoral care in that setting.
Minatrea recalled his experiences ministering in the aftermath of two plane crashes at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport more than ten years ago. He remembered how meaningful it had been to victims’ families to know that the bodies of their loved ones had been treated with dignity and that a minister had been present.
He persuaded the officer in charge at the crime scene to allow Mitch Felder, an African-American police chaplain, to enter the church building with the medical examiner to remove the bodies of victims.
“It was important for someone from the faith community to be there,” Minatrea said.
Minatrea was kept busy coordinating the faith-based response to the families and was not able to stay with a single family for hours at a time, as the other chaplains did. However, he was able to talk to several parents, as well as to law officers.
“A number of times I heard expressed the question, ‘Why would God let something like this happen to my kids? They were not out on the street, not anywhere they shouldn’t have been. They were in church.’”
It was an issue that others struggled with in the hours following the tragedy, including classmates of the victims. Jim Young, coordinator of restorative justice ministries for the BGCT and former prison chaplain, attended an early morning meeting of school counselors at the Fort Worth Independent School District office to make available the services of pastoral crisis counselors to assist the mental health professionals.
Throughout the experience, both Elmore and Minatrea noted many of the police officers, school counselors and others in secular helping professions made it clear that they were acting out of their own faith commitments.
“It was so clear that so many of the other caregivers are God’s people, too,” Minatrea said.

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  • Ken Camp