PC(USA) pastors work to help community heal following San Bernardino shootings
Church members still in shock
San Bernardino and Redlands authorities are still trying to piece together what led Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to go on a shooting rampage last week, killing 14 people and injuring 21. The couple opened fire during a luncheon at the Inlands Regional Center in San Bernardino on December 2nd. The attention of the investigation has shifted to whether the couple had links to foreign terror organizations.
As for the community of 70,000, life is far from normal however local government and faith leaders are working to help the residents begin the healing process.
“We held a vigil in San Bernardino on Monday, jointly sponsored by elected officials, law enforcement and the faith community,” said the Rev. Tom Rennard, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Redlands. “The place was packed as we heard inspiring messages on human dignity and peace reconciliation.”
Rennard says there is still a great deal of shock and grief taking place within his congregation and beyond.
“Some of us are angry that someone a half mile away from this church, right under our noses, would do such a thing,” he said. “One of our volunteers lived just five doors away from the couple. We find it hard to fathom that parents would leave their six-month old baby with in-laws and then go out and kill and be killed.”
First Presbyterian is located in the downtown area. Its 207 members include many with a Pakistani-American heritage. Rennard and others are concerned about backlash from the shootings.
“The Redlands Tea Party has asked that no Syrian refugees be allowed to settle in the community,” he said. “Catholic Relief Services, which is leading resettlement efforts, says it has no knowledge of Syrians coming, however we fully intend to welcome anyone who comes to us.”
Rennard says he’s been asked by Congressman Pete Aguilar to attend an upcoming Redlands City Council meeting next week to offer a “faith voice” should the refugee issue come up.
Rennard’s wife, the Rev. Sandy Tice, is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of San Bernardino. She wants to continue to preach forgiveness throughout this difficult time in the community.
“We strive to be people who learn how to make a way when there is no way to do more than can be done to forgive in the face of evil,” she said. “Refusing to forgive poisons our own heart and makes us part of the problem rather than part of the healing. We choose to lean toward forgiveness even if we can’t do it freely. We lean in that direction because we long to be forgiving people who dwell in a world where there is healing, wholeness and redemption.”
Police have conducted hundreds of interviews in the past several days, collecting more than 300 pieces of evidence. It’s still too early to say whether there are any international connections to the shootings. President Obama told a broadcast audience on Sunday evening that there is no evidence at this point to indicate the couple was connected to a larger conspiracy.