July 23, 2015, 12:00 AM

"We're gathering for hope at Hope"

I drive down Amnicola Highway every day for work. So I prayed for whatever it was that caused police car after fire truck after ambulance to speed by me and divert traffic from my normal route that Thursday morning. I texted my colleague and a student at the Hope House and said something was going on, and then texted them back after hearing Chattanooga State was on lockdown and an active shooter in the area.

It was gathered around a TV together where we heard not Chattanooga State, the Navy Recruitment office. And the mall. And Lee Highway. And two shooters. And then not Lee Highway. And not two shooters. With our eyes glued to the TV we heard the ambulances pulling into Erlanger only a stone’s throw away from us and prayed, “Dear Lord, please be with these people.” And selfishly, “Dear Lord, please don’t let it be any of ours.”

Hours later after the name of the shooter and the school and department he graduated from was released, after our board met and dispersed, a student came to the back door and into the kitchen. Hers is the face that continues to define what this shooting has meant to me. Fear. Disbelief. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Unity.

In the days that followed, we learned that our little community had been drastically affected by Thursday’s horrific events, but it was not in any way any of us were prepared. 

Since starting as the interim Director of Spirituality at Hope in November of last year, I have earned a couple of things.

1) This is not a traditional campus ministry.  

2) The Holy Spirit is loose in this place.

3) My job is to get out of the way.

Walking by tables during any Free Tuesday Lunch, you might hear Spanish, English, or Arabic being spoken. And if you sat down with students, you would hear debates over which engineering department was the best, questions about God's grace, conversations about whose home country has the best Spanish, invitations for an open house at the mosque. You would see henna tattoos and Bibles. African, Indonesian, Palestinian, Korean, Mexican, Spanish, Rwandan, English, Russian, Australian, American, Chinese, Ghanaian, Pakistani, Israeli. This place is full to over flowing with compassion and hospitality, grace and welcome.

It was disbelief and shock I'm sure. But those eyes. Bigger than normal. And wet. 

"I grew up with him. I know him."


It's not the way I would have chosen to have the closest link to the events of last Thursday. What do you do with that? And how do you navigate people hurting who are tied to a man who did such terrible things? I mean, I love these students. Like a pastor, sometimes even a friend. I know I even cross the boundary a lot and wander over to mothering. What do you do when a few of your flock are hurting in ways that are unbelievable? That you cannot even imagine and never hope to imagine? How do you offer support with such a fine line between supporting and sympathizing?


2) The Holy Spirit is loose in this place.

I think it's important to acknowledge a couple of things about the response from the Muslim community to this tragedy. On Thursday Muslims were celebrating Ramadan. Friday was Eid al-Fitr. I am not well versed in Islam, but I understand enough to know that when the Imam and leaders of the Muslim community announced they were cancelling Eid, it was akin to Christians canceling Easter. They are both high holy days. Representatives from the Muslim community did not think it was faithful to have a celebration during such a time as this. 

Instead many, after some making sure it was okay, attended the interfaith service at Olivet Baptist Church. The single largest group represented at the service, larger than the police, military, Christian, and Jewish communities, were the Muslims. And when those several hundred Muslims were invited to stand and show their solidarity with the broken community at large, the rest of the attendees rose to stand with them to signify unity. We are Chattanooga Strong.

In the midst of brokenness and grief and during a high religious holiday, the Chattanoogan Muslim community has continued to point away from themselves and towards the victims and their families. 

“Let’s gather for hope at Hope.”  

The other part of the text message we sent out to our students warned them to be discreet so the media would not show up. We needed to process this and support one another. And so we gathered. Representing at least five different faiths and four different ethnicities, with members of the Presbytery, our board, and UTC's Dean of Students, we acknowledged the space was Holy, and now was the time to listen to one another.

Our Muslim students shared their horror and disbelief over growing up with someone who would do such a heinous act. Other students asked them questions about Islam, about the personality of the shooter. They were conversations that could happen because the students already loved and cared for one another. We as a community took turns sharing our fears, where we placed our hope, and then with a candle lighting ritual how we hoped to move forward. 

There are a lot of things I have not done well in this ministry. I did not do Ferguson well, if at all. On social media, sure, but not with the students here that matter the most to me. With so many students, I have not learned enough names and remembered enough details. I have often allowed the shyness I feel in new situations to overcome my voice of justice and mercy. But Sunday. Sunday I remembered #3.

3) My job is to get out of the way. 

There is a lot to say about the days since, but I think this is the most important: what gave many of us hope (faculty, pastors, and students alike) was that gathering, that we could sit with one another as Christians, as Muslims, as black, brown, and white, as people with different ideologies, cultures, and politics. We could be honest and scared and angry and vulnerable - we could be authentic and still love and care for one another.

I think we are all still trying to figure out how to move forward, how to begin to put the pieces back together. But here is what I know to be true: this call of Jesus’ for radical hospitality changes lives and communities, and the Holy Spirit is loose both in this ministry and in the hearts of our young people. We are indeed a people of Hope. We are hope-filled.

Julie Johnson on 07-25-2015 at 9:53 AM
Thanking God that someone who is as gifted and sensitive as you is right midst of of all of this pain and confusion. Why is it that that tragedy clarifies our vocation? Live into Hope remembering to be gentle with yourself as you care for others. Praying..
Sandy Winter on 07-25-2015 at 12:41 AM
Belle on 07-23-2015 at 11:36 PM
Wonderful work!
Karen and Ted on 07-23-2015 at 8:45 PM
So proud of you, Tricia...so glad you are there at this time...sending love, hugs, and prayers
Laurel on 07-23-2015 at 6:18 PM
Thank you for your witness of the Spirit at work, giving us all hope. Keeping you in my prayers.
MaryAnn on 07-23-2015 at 5:55 PM
Grateful that God has put you in the place at this time, with these people. Proud of you, praying for you, love you bunches.
Post a Comment