Seeing God’s presence in a week of tragedy

A UMNS photo illustration by Cindy Caldwell.

From shock, fear and anger to mourning, emotions have run the gamut this week as U.S. conferences have dealt with tragedies of many scales.

Throughout the challenges, United Methodists across the connection have told us how they saw God at work even in the most trying moments.

Boston Area Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Annual (regional) Conference, said in a letter to the conference after the Boston Marathon bombings that the "outpouring of love and support from friends and colleagues in our United Methodist connection has been overwhelming and wonderful."

As the events in Boston continued to hold the city in their grip at week's end, he offered a prayer for all. "Let us continue to be in deep prayer for God's grace, peace, justice and love to prevail, everywhere in our neighborhoods, towns and villages, cities, nations and the world," he said.

Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, which includes the town of West, noted in a blog: "Collectively this has been a hard week. News of the tragic terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon was joined (on April 17) by the massive explosion here at home in West, Texas. While Boston may be distant, we still reach out instinctively with our prayer and our care. The town of West is in the heart of our conference. This tragedy is close to home and touches our lives much more intimately. Here, too, we reach out with the love and care of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Rev. Lisa Caine, pastor of Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens, Ga., reflected on the loss of the church's building in a fire this week. "The building may be gone, but our ministry and mission are alive and well, and we go forward trusting in God's goodness and the future that awaits us," she wrote. "We are assured by the words of Isaiah 41:10, 'Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.'"

United Methodist Communications, the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church, publicized messages of caring and hope this week in newspapers in the Boston and Central Texas areas. The page above addressed the tragedy in West, Texas. A similar message was published in Boston-area newspapers.
United Methodist Communications, the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church, publicized messages of caring and hope this week in newspapers in the Boston and Central Texas areas.

At an interfaith service Thursday in Boston, President Barack Obama said, "Scripture tells us to 'run with endurance the race that's set before us'" and noted that, "We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again!"

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference wrote Thursday on Facebook:

"It's been a week of tragedies. Some - like the Boston Marathon bombing - have been intentional in order to bring death, chaos and fear. Others - like the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas - may have been caused by human error, but people would have done anything to stop it if only they had known.

"Still others - like the storms in Oklahoma last evening - are simply and sadly the results of humanity being in the path of nature. And, then, there are the countless daily personal tragedies - like the death of children from starvation, sexual abuse, addiction, the breakup of families and terrible illnesses - that never make the news.

"When any tragedy strikes, you probably ask, 'God, where are you in all of this?' Although some people may argue that God is responsible because God allows it to happen, God's not responsible for any tragedy. God's not punishing sinful people. God's not concocting some large-scale teachable moment. God's not instigating suffering to bring about some greater good.

"But just because God's not responsible does not mean that God is not present. Because God is. Fully present. Personally present. Actively present. And this God is inviting you to experience God's transforming love in the most unexpected ways as love defeats hate, hope replaces despair, healing occurs in the midst of brokenness and life emerges out of the ashes of death."

Where have you seen God this week? Share with us in comments below.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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