Members of the church community are shocked and heartbroken after a shooting left two dead and one other person injured at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills. Just after the incident, people from different faiths and congregations came together hoping to heal through the power of prayer.
As police blocked the roads to Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church for hours, family, friends, and neighbors gathered in a nearby parking lot looking for answers. Many of them gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed for those affected by the attack.
READ MORE: Two dead, one injured in shooting at church in Vestavia Hills
Lynda Montana knows some of the victims.
“I am so sad I’m so prayerful for the families that was affected by this," Montana said. "I think our whole church family will be affected by this I’m just in shock and disbelief. Very sad.”
She has been a member of Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church for 20 years.
"It’s the lovingest, small comfortable church," Montana said. "It’s just a very community oriented very loving. Just reaching out to the community all the time.”
Prayer is how the community is trying to find strength and heal after the shooting. You could hear the group of people in the parking lot saying the words of what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer.
Kelley Hudlow with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama was one of those who joined in.
"I’m sad," Hudlow said. "This is something that you read about in the news you see a lot of other places have experienced this and it hurts that it happened here.”
The shooting happened during a church potluck. According to the congregation's website, a Boomers Potluck was being held between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday night.
"It’s a social time for the church to gather," Hudlow said.
The Rev. John Burruss, the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Rector, videotaped this statement while overseas on a pilgrimage to Greece.
'That is what we do as people of faith," Burruss said. "We come together in the midst of life and death."
Burruss released a further statement late Thursday night in response to the shooting.
Our hearts are broken from the horrible tragedy this evening at Saint Stephen’s. I do not yet know all of the details but can confirm that two of our parishioners were killed and another is in the hospital after a shooting incident at our Boomers gathering. More than anything, I ask your prayers for our community, especially those who are injured and the families of the deceased. These are the pillars of our community, and I cannot begin to fathom how painful this is for our entire church, and the larger community. There is much that will be shared in the coming days and weeks as we look to gather and process this tragic event.
Clergy from our diocese and across the country have been reaching out in support and we are working on organizing counselors and other aid. I am working to get back from Greece as soon as I possibly can, hopefully in the next 18-24 hours. Our building is currently not accessible because of the investigation. The Rev. Katherine Harper is organizing gatherings including a prayer vigil that will be held at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Bishop Glenda will be with us on Sunday morning. Updates will be posted on our Facebook page.
I know many of you have been asking what we can do. We can pray and we can gather. People have gathered as followers of Christ for 2000 years because of the belief that God’s outstretched arms can reach all of humanity through pain and the most unfathomable loss. We gather because we know that love is the most powerful force in this world, and tonight, and in the days, months, and years that come, will hold onto that truth to know that Christ’s love will always shine.
We will keep you informed in the coming days and hours as plans evolve, and I pray for God’s peace which surpasses all understanding by keeping our minds and hearts in the love of Christ Jesus. Your clergy, Becky, CJ, Ron, Katherine, and I love you and together we will walk in love through the midst of this moment.
There are multiple prayer vigils for the victims of the shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal to be held Friday. There will be one at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Brook.