Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Episcopal Campus ministry reaches out in response to Virginia Tech campus shooting

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, April 16, 2007
[Episcopal News Service] Members of the Canterbury House Episcopal ministry on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University plan to gather on the evening of April 18 for a memorial and healing service, following an April 16 shooting spree at the school which is being called the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Rev. Elizabeth Morgan, interim rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Blacksburg, Virginia,(church building pictured above left) said she was able to check on the small number of students who live at the Canterbury House and all are accounted for.

"They're fine," she told ENS.

A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people and wounding another 24 before he was killed, according to the Washington Post.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that the people of the Episcopal Church are shocked and saddened by the shootings at Virginia Tech. "We hold in our prayers the students, faculty, and staff of that institution, their families, and all affected by today's events," she said "As we begin to confront this senseless loss, we will continue to pray for all who grieve and search for understanding."

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said at a news conference. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified that this would befall us."

The university reported shootings at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed residence hall that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building.

One student was killed in a dorm and the others were killed in the classroom, according to Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.

After the shootings, all entrances to the campus were closed and classes canceled through Tuesday.

A service of Evening Prayer in remembrance of the deaths and injuries from the shootings was planned for 6 p.m. April 16 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia.

The Canterbury Fellowship ministry on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg is part of Christ Church's outreach work.

Morgan said the town was virtually locked down after the shootings. She and her staff could hear the wail of sirens all morning but "now it's deadly silent."

The AP reported that students on campus communicated via cell phones and the internet while the shooting was going on.

Morgan said residents had some trouble communicating as telephones, especially cellular phones, were experiencing service trouble. The problems could have been due to the high winds of a nor'easter storm that began hitting the east coast of the United States on April 15 and continued into April 16. Morgan reported that medical-evacuation helicopters were grounded because of the winds.

The Christ Church staff held a prayer vigil shortly after the shootings and the church is open now for prayer -- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- for the rest of the week. A sign on door of the sanctuary says "Please enter to pray."

Morgan said she anticipates an ecumenical response by the area's faith communities, but it is still too early to know what shape that service will take.

"Two of our area clergy are police chaplains but we haven't heard from them yet," she told Christie Wills, minister of communication for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. "I expect that we will wait on planning any services until we hear from them and find out what community services may be held."

Virginia Tech said it plans a convocation ceremony April 17.

Scott Russell, Christ Church's associate rector and campus chaplain, is in Germany and won't be back until April 18, Morgan said.

She told Wills she has made it known that Canterbury House is open and available for meals, companionship and counseling for anyone.

Wills reported to the diocese's clergy via email that there may be a need for additional clergy to help with counseling/ pastoral visits later in the week.

Bishop Neff Powell is on sabbatical and Wills reported that he has been in touch about the shootings.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service


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