Roll call of victims in church

April 24, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY -- One by one, they stood and called out the names of the dead and the missing. After each name, parishioners said a silent prayer inside their simple suburban church on the outskirts of the big city.

"I'd like to remember Colleen," one woman said as she rose from a pew in the small stucco chapel of the Southpark Baptist Church. "They still haven't found her."

"Nicky," said another woman. "She lost her husband, and they're expecting a baby in July."

"Robin," said someone else. "She was seven months pregnant."

In hundreds of churches across Oklahoma City, thousands of people came together to pray and heal and make sense of the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Wednesday morning -- three days after Easter Sunday.

"It's a time of tragedy in our city," the pastor, Leon Wilson, said during services yesterday at Southpark Baptist, which was crowded with parents and their children and couples holding hands and handkerchiefs. "Everybody here has been touched by this. It will take years to overcome."

Sitting on the southwestern fringe of Oklahoma City, Southpark Baptist is a typical suburban church in the Bible Belt of America. It has a growing congregation in a burgeoning bedroom community about 10 miles from downtown in what were once wheat fields and alfalfa farms. Inside the one-story brick building is a small chapel with an open-beam ceiling. Ribbons to remember the victims are tacked to the preacher's podium.

It's a church where the congregation sings "Happy Birthday" to fellow parishioners. It's a church where everyone brings their own copies of well-thumbed, leather-bound Bibles. Yesterday, it was a church were people came with sadness and tried to leave with a little hope.

"I have been awed by the desire of everyone wanting to do something and feeling almost helpless," Mr. Wilson said during his sermon. "There have been many deaths. You can't find answers. How do we resolve that? How do we deal with that?"

He asked his parishioners to call out the names of people they knew who were killed, trapped or injured, or the names of their family members. After a moment, they started to stand, calling out one name after another.

In all, the congregation prayed for nearly two dozen victims and families.

"My best friend Priscilla," one woman said.

"The Chavez family," said another.

Mr. Wilson then asked his parishioners to confront what happened five days ago, to learn from the deaths of friends and colleagues in this close-knit community, to become better mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

"The way we meet sorrow is going to depend on the way we meet life," the pastor said.

"If we found out that the world was going to be destroyed in one hour, the phone lines would be jammed with the words, 'I love you,' " he said. "Why wait? Why wait? Why risk the remorse of conscience when you could do something about it right now?"

Children were also comforted at the church yesterday. In rooms not far from the chapel, teachers told them to discuss the bombing and the deaths. The teachers and their students talked about forgiveness, the Scriptures in the Bible, and the children they will never see again.

"We said a prayer to guide them," Jennifer Tourville, 13, said after Sunday school yesterday.

For some children, the deaths of so many people are just starting to sink in.

"I don't think kids equate television with reality," said Chris Brewster, a youth counselor at Southpark Baptist who teaches choir at Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City. "It's really starting to hit home. A lot of these kids have family or friends who were killed or are unaccounted for."

He said four students in his advanced high school choir class had relatives who died in the bombing. Yesterday, preachers talked about one of the toughest parts of last week's tragedy.

"Boys and girls are hurting today because their parents are gone," Mr. Wilson told his congregation. "Boys and girls are hurting today because other boys and girls are gone."

The pastor said there were two ways to handle the sorrow.

"Either it will serve us, or we will serve it," he said. "Grief can be a friend or it can be an enemy. It's entirely our choice. It will close in on us, or it will open up a new dimension of the soul."

At the end of his sermon, Mr. Wilson asked a simple question.

"Are you glad you came?"

"Amen," his parishioners said.

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