The Institute originally published this post on May 26, 2015, on our previous website. Here, we are honored to welcome Rev. Dr. David Holyan, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, St Louis, MO.
On the morning of February 7, 2013 I got a text message on my phone, “Thinking of you all on this important day.”
I can remember thinking how odd it was that the sender would know that I was 5 minutes from beginning a clergy retreat in Newtown, CT. The sender, a responder whom I met in the aftermath of the shooting in Kirkwood, and I had not been in touch in some time.
And then it struck me: February 7, 2013, five years to the day, the shooting in Kirkwood had happened.
I was about to begin an ecumenical all-day clergy retreat in Newtown, CT on the anniversary of the shooting in Kirkwood AND I had FORGOTTEN it was the anniversary date. What joy! And what heartbreak! Standing in front of a group of hurting and exhausted pastors, I had to refrain from jumping up and down and shouting 'alleluia' from the top of my lungs.
It only took 5 years, but for the first time I realized I would be able to live my life and NOT have the Kirkwood shooting be ever present in my psyche. I recognized in that moment that my life had continued to grow and change and good things where springing up all around. The recognition of resurrection and springtime awakening in my soul occurred at the outset of a Newtown clergy retreat held the day before a blizzard in New England.
When I brought this recollection back to my spiritual director, she smiled simply and shook her head 'yes'. Goodness and beauty stuck their heads through the snow and grief and I was able to recognize both for what they were. The miracle of not recognizing the meaning of a text message marked for me a significant transition in my vocational resilience. And with it, I was able to be more fully present to the task at hand – creating and tending sacred space for a group of clergy traumatized by serving a community devastated by heinous gun violence.
The Kirkwood shooting changed the trajectory of my ministry. I would not have been standing in Newtown if it were not for Kirkwood. And my experience of a strange text message taught me that there could be moments of grace irrupting through the ordinary slog of my life. A moment, a light bulb moment of awe and goodness and joy, which comes now because of and in spite of what happened in Kirkwood. Rather than resisting the change to the trajectory of my ministry, I have, to some point, relaxed into being embraced by it. I would not choose this course for any pastor. But to resist the mighty forces of evil and darkness may have destroyed me. Instead, I learned to befriend those forces, to be embraced by the energy, and now, I continue to learn how to be alive again (and again) and notice the small beauties all around.
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