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Fort Dodge pastors offer hope, reassurance

They make joint statement in response to Henderson’s death

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The parking lot of St. Paul Lutheran Church became a sea of cell phone lights Thursday evening as family and friends gathered for a prayer service and candlelight vigil in honor of the Rev. Al Henderson who was killed Wednesday evening during an assault at the church.

Wow. What could possibly be said?

As a fellow pastor, on my way home from our own Wednesday evening church programs, I was shocked when I heard the tragic news of what happened to the Rev. Al Henderson. How could something like this happen in our town? At a church, no less? It could have been any of us. Wednesday evening is when churches are filled with staff and parishioners.

I was floored, shaken to the core. However, my experience pales in comparison to that of the people closest to him. His family, friends, the members of St Paul Lutheran Church, our first responders he’s worked so closely with — I can’t even begin to imagine the hurt and loss they are experiencing.

In our digital age, everybody has an opinion about current events. Too often we are quick to respond and slow to listen. So, why this letter? Why add one more opinion?

In response to that question, I’d like to offer a word from our local pastors. In what follows, you’ll read not just the opinions of one person, but sentiments from local clergy from a wide variety of Christian denominations. Since Pastor Henderson’s death, we’ve been calling, texting, meeting, and praying together. Here is what we would like you to know:

Webster County, the churches in your community are here for you. We want you to know that we support this community. While we have a variety of different views about theology, we want to be clear about this. The churches of the greater Fort Dodge area are for you.

Rather than be known by what we are against or what we don’t agree on, we want to be known by what we are for. The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:7 that we are to seek the welfare of our city. The pastors and church leaders of this community are praying together for you. While we haven’t always done the best at that “together” part, we are committed at this time to show our support of this community, together.

We are making this collective statement now because it feels like God is not present. How could God be? How could God be present when such evil prevailed on Wednesday, Oct. 2? Surely we’ve misunderstood where God is and how God acts.

We pastors stand united to proclaim that God is here. God is at work, even now. In fact, it’s often the most God-forsaken moments in life where God is the most at work. The course of human history was changed when Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” In some mysterious way, Jesus, God in the flesh, felt abandonment by God, as he experienced the weight of all human brokenness in that moment.

The God of the Bible is a God who suffers with us, on our behalf. God is grieving with us today, too.

Even more, we proclaim to you that God is here because we have seen, heard, and experienced God at work in our community. Webster County is filled with passionate people striving to serve one another in all walks of life. Our law enforcement, firefighters, medical personnel, city leaders, school personnel, and so many others serve this community tirelessly. Our business leaders work creatively together to enhance the economic development of our community. Nonprofit workers bring their passion to address critical needs. And within our churches, we see people using their skills and resources day in and day out.

Lastly, we want to remind you to not be afraid. This is easier said than done. After this tragedy, we all wonder if we are truly safe. It seems that every day we hear of violence and division all around us. We often long for a simpler time. Our society hasn’t always been like this, has it? We are tempted to lock our doors even more, to get better security systems, to keep our kids indoors, or to get stronger firepower.

Following these thoughts, we start to blame others. If only … and you can fill in the blank. We look to those who are different from us or to those who we don’t agree with. We are tempted to look everywhere, hoping to find somewhere to place the blame, to make sense of this.

It’s been said that the Bible reminds us to “fear not” over 365 times — at least once for every day. In these difficult days, let us draw our strength and courage from one another. If you have questions, doubts, anger, or fears, please talk to someone. We pastors are here, but you also have family, friends, and coworkers. Please do not go through this time alone. You are so loved.

We stand together as pastors in this community, in this moment, inviting you to stand in unity as well. God is here, God is at work all around us, and we see God at work when we stand together in unity.

The way forward will not be easy. It will require humility, openness, sacrifice, and challenge. But we are up for this challenge.

Scott Meier

Badger Lutheran Church

Steven Roe

Beacon of Hope

Craig Miller

Christ Lutheran Church, Fort Dodge

Washington Lutheran Church, Duncombe

Ronald Dunsdon

Community of Christ

Scott Hatton

Gabe Casciato

CrossWay Evangelical Free Church

Eric Howard

Annette Howard

First Baptist Church

Allan Redenius

Anthony Clerkin

First Covenant Church

Austin Hill

Sara Hill

Rebecca Dix

First Presbyterian Church

Andrea Kraushaar

First United Methodist Church

Jennifer Owen

Friendship Haven

Dan Kahl

Grace Lutheran Church

Marvin Smith

Harvest Baptist Church

Kevin McCoy

Brian Feller

Holy Trinity Catholic Parish

Zachary Ziffer

Hope Church

Josh Carmody

New Covenant Christian Church

Dale Harlow

Jeremy Munden

Northfield Church

Kyle Dana

Nathan Lawrence

Prairie Lakes Church

Kristine Leaman

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Michael Blackwell

Trinity United Methodist Church

Jeremy Hatley

UnityPoint Health TRMC