Senior Pastor Nathan Parker said he immediately recommended the sanctuary when police requested space at Woodmont Baptist Church for reunions between parents and survivors of the mass shooting at nearby Covenant School in Nashville.
“A sanctuary is a holy place, but it is also a place of refuge and safety. I told the police I believed our sanctuary would be a good place, and it was,” Parker said in a message posted to Facebook the evening of the March 27 attack that took the lives of three 9-year-olds, three staff members, and the shooter identified as Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old who previously attended the school.
Woodmont Baptist is located about 5 minutes away from the school, which is affiliated with Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Woodmont’s sanctuary was transformed into a place of service throughout the day, with staffers handing out water bottles and snacks to waiting parents as city officials took names and everyone waited for students to arrive by bus.
But three children did not show up.
“It has been a hard day. We are sad. Sad for the families who came rushing to our church. Sad for those whose lives will never be the same because of the trauma inflicted on them. Sad because we live in a world broken by sin, suffering and death,” Parker said.
Amid these tragic events, Christians served their neighbors, Parker said. “It has been amazing to see how the body of Christ has come together to be his hands and feet. I could not be more proud of our selfless staff and the way they have all served. Church members, neighbors, lay leaders, deacons, etc., all showed up today to simply hand out water or show people to restrooms or offer a compassionate countenance. The prayers of the saints of this community were palpably felt in our church today.”
The Covenant School is a private pre-K through sixth grade school located about two miles from Woodmont, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation, which led Parker and staff to wonder how and why the church was selected as the reunification site for the tragedy.
The church only learned of their role from a social media message posted by Nashville emergency officials. The message was shared across multiple online platforms and was reported by television and print media outlets. “None of us had been made aware of that, but our staff leapt into action and did not stop until families had left the building many hours later,” he said.
Woodmont still had no idea how that decision had been made as Covenant students began arriving by school bus and as parents arrived to learn if their children had survived the shootings, Parker said. “I asked the police in charge, and they had no answers.”
But in the late afternoon, Parker said he was approached by a man who identified himself as the facilities director at Covenant School. He told the pastor it was he who had suggested authorities use Woodmont to host the reunions.
“I told him we were honored, of course, and asked him why he told administrators and first responders to come here. He said, ‘I’ve been driving by that church for 18 years, and I knew it was a good church. I see the work you’re doing, and I knew you were a good church. I am grateful for the reputation that our church has gained as a ‘good church’ in our community. I am grateful that the Lord saw fit to use our church as a sanctuary today. I’m grateful to be on this journey with you all, even when the road is rocky.”
School shootings: How can we respond to children, parents, teachers and others affected? | Opinion by Brad Schwall