By Jeff Brumley
A church bombing — moments before Sunday worship — would seem like a uniformly negative event in the life of a congregation and its minister.
But that’s just not the case for Calvary Baptist Church and Kevin Glenn, who’s led the Las Cruces, N.M., church for less than two months.
Calvary was one of two churches in Las Cruces where improvised explosive devices detonated the morning of Aug. 2. The bomb at the nearby Catholic parish exploded during Mass. No injuries were reported at either site.
And it all happened on Glenn’s first day at Calvary, having moved recently from Missouri, where he had led Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia.
Glenn said the 30-plus days since taking his new pulpit have been filled with all manner of challenges, but he said they have all been blessings.
One of them, he said, has been to accelerate the bonding between himself and his congregation.
Glenn recalled a college student telling him recently that it felt like the minister had been at the church a lot longer than he actually has been.
“That bond happened a lot quicker because of this incident,” he said.
Glenn took a few moments to share his thoughts with Baptist News Global about the brief but busy time he has been pastor at Calvary Baptist.
What kind of support did you get from fellow Baptists, locally or otherwise, after the bombing?
It was really wonderful. The leaders from the Baptist Convention of New Mexico reached out, as well as our friends from Missouri. We heard both from the Missouri Baptist Convention side and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship side. I immediately was getting texts saying how they were praying. The support was quick and it was overwhelming — and in a good way.
Did you hear from other denominations?
Yes, from other denominations and even from other faiths. … The Unitarian-Universalist church was really quick to respond. They sent a letter and sent word of their support and prayers. The Methodist church down the street contacted us and Holy Cross [Catholic Church] was the other church that was bombed. Monsignor [John] Anderson and I have built a unique relationship. … The support has been across denominations, across religions and even the non-religious. And the support has been verbal, prayerful and financial. Random people, who knew we were making security upgrades, have contributed.
Have authorities updated you on the investigation?
Last week was the first week we didn’t have a meeting with some law enforcement agency. They aren’t telling us a whole lot, anyway. They assure us there is a lot of activity …. We believe they are onto something, but I think they want to have all their ducks in a row [before they say more]. It has deliberately gone quiet …. Another bomb was later found at First Presbyterian Church and it’s up in the air if it was intended to detonate the same day. So, First Presbyterian has become part of the “explosive community.”
Has the congregation returned to normal or is everyone still on edge from the bombing?
No. Two weeks after an FBI agent — a victim’s advocate — came and spoke to church to let everyone know she would offer services for anyone on the edge, anyone having trouble sleeping. No one reached out to her. No one is on edge. There is a new normal in that we have people — some of them with law enforcement experience, some who have been trained recently by our folks with law enforcement experience — we have them strategically placed throughout the campus inside and outside. They are not uniformed, but they are a presence. They notice the difference, but it’s not an invasive difference and people who visit Calvary haven’t noticed anything at all. We are calling it an enhanced greeter ministry. And that’s put our folks at ease.
How much damage did the church sustain?
A mailbox was destroyed. A few windows [were shattered] but they have been repaired. We haven’t replaced the mailbox yet.
How did the larger community react?
Overall they were shocked and offended. What I heard residents say was that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in our city. This was whether they were religious or not. And they were offended that if someone was going to do this, that they would do it at a church. To target churches like this, people were pretty put out by that and didn’t like it at all …. The people in our neighborhood have indicated they are watching out.
Have you had a lot of visitors or new members join the church as a result of the bombing?
No one has mentioned that as their reason for coming now, but attendance is way up. Others at the church have told me the attendance for typical Sundays has exceeded what Easter attendance has the past two years.
Has the incident and its aftermath given Baptists a higher profile in this mostly Catholic part of the country?
I think it has. I have been surprised by how many local state and local outlets have contacted me …. That has increased the profile for our expression of the Baptist tribe here at Calvary.
Did the first month or so of your pastorate at Calvary go differently than you originally thought it would?
What it has done is it has accelerated the bond between pastor and people. From that first day there was an immediate need to respond to the congregation, especially questions from parents concerned about their children’s safety. … The only message I preached that specifically dealt with this incident was the first one. It set the tone for keeping focused on our mission, to not panic and not to see the people who did this as our enemy. It said that while we are seeking justice, we are also seeking for their redemption and for peace to be part of their life.