FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The Sept. 15, 1999, shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church left many members in need of comfort and answers. Many sought refuge in worship — a familiar friend that has been a source of unification and healing since the first Sunday after the event.
“The singing was just overwhelming,” said Wedgwood’s minister of music and worship, Jonathan Gardner, of that Sunday just four days after the shooting. “You didn’t see that there weren’t pews. You didn’t see that there wasn’t carpet. All you saw was people praising God.”
More than 2,000 people attended the two services that day. The worship center, which had remained a crime scene for a couple of days after the shooting, had folding chairs where bloodied and bullet-riddled pews had been and concrete floors where carpet had been.
Wedgwood, which uses a blend of traditional and contemporary music, has long had a reputation for having vibrant worship services, and in many respects the shooting didn’t change much in that area. What it did provide was something familiar that people could rely on to help cope in the aftermath of the shooting.
“People have a common bond in worship,” said Jim Burns, director of graduate studies and church music at Lee University in Tennessee. “You’re singing the same words to the same songs. There is a potential there for faster healing than with people being treated by individual counselors.”
Gardner has seen more unity among Wedgwood members in the year since the shooting.
“There’s been more of a bonding within our fellowship and that’s evident when we come together on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights for our times of worship,” he said.
Many Wedgwood members have also found a new personal freedom in their worship as they heal from the pain of September 1999, he added.
“They have developed a deepened passion in their heart and in their life for that intimacy and time of praise,” Gardner said. “They are surrounded by a thousand other people in a worship service, but it’s just them and God. And, to them, that’s extremely important to that individual. They don’t care what the person next to them really thinks. They just want to offer themselves to God.”
Burns agreed that worship experiences and the freedom found in them can help a church like Wedgwood heal in the wake of its losses.
“A community group needs to be able to heal and come together, a place to join with one another and focus on common ground,” Burns said. “Ballgames do this in our culture, but as much as they bring people together, they only reach a certain part of our population. Worship does this because it’s something as churchgoers that we all share. It’s an experience we can all come and relate to. We have the common bond of worship.”
One of the primary healing factors in worship is the music, Burns said.
“Music is so often tied to emotions. It can make a connection,” he said. “The same song has the capacity to touch so many people in many different ways. Songs can speak to people in a different way depending on what they are feeling or going through.”
The changes are something Gardner thinks will continue over time.
“I think it will continue to go on,” the Wedgwood minister said. “For the people of Wedgwood there’s no turning back. It’s all forward. We have found a joy and an excitement in what we do.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo titles: WORSHIP THROUGH GRIEF and STUDENTS STILL PRAISE.