United Methodist churches open doors after school shooting

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Photo courtesy of the California-Pacific Conference. 
The Rev. Nicole Reilley (left), pastor of Valencia United Methodist Church and the Rev. Melissa MacKinnon, East District superintendent of California-Pacific Conference, speak to participants at the Fresh United Methodism Summit about the Saugus School shooting on Nov. 14. Photo courtesy of the California-Pacific Conference.  

David Stradling was teaching his first-period marine biology class at Saugus High School when a 16-year-old student walked onto school grounds, shot five students and then used his last bullet on himself.

The Rev. Nicole Reilley. Photo courtesy of Valencia United Methodist Church 
David Stradling. Photo courtesy of Valencia United Methodist Church.   

Two of the students and the shooter died; three other students were wounded. Stradling said one of the students who died was in his second-period class.

Stradling is also youth director at Valencia United Methodist Church, which is near Santa Clarita, where the school is located. One of the first things he did was open up the youth room at the church to anyone who needed a place to go and talk.

“It may be easier for the kids to talk with me because I went through it,” he told United Methodist News. Stradling said he has checked in and talked with each member of the church’s youth.

Valencia United Methodist Church and Santa Clarita United Methodist Church held vigils on the night of the shooting.

The Rev. Nicole Reilley, pastor of Valencia, and the Rev. Melissa MacKinnon, East District superintendent, were participants at the Fresh United Methodism Summit held Nov. 14-16 at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church. Both pastors were helping the community after the shootings and spoke to the summit participants.

The Rev. Elaine Cho is pastor of Santa Clarita United Methodist Church, but was not at the summit.

“We gathered at 7 p.m. and had about 130 people in the pews and 30 or more people in the choir,” Reilley said. “We used the Scripture of the Good Samaritan to talk about our need to care for each other and not to give up in times like this.”

Reilley said kids and parents are grieving and feeling vulnerable.

“It is an opportunity for us to be the church in a difficult time and to offer people a light in what is the midst of a lot of darkness,” Reilley said.

The shooting took place on the gunman’s 16th birthday. Authorities said a motive for the attack has not been determined.

The Rev. Nicole Reilley. Photo courtesy of Valencia United Methodist Church 
The Rev. Nicole Reilley. Photo courtesy of Valencia United Methodist Church.    

“I just can’t imagine the parents who woke up this morning and their kid is dead,” MacKinnon said. “I think about the kid who did the shooting, what kind of hell did he live in that at 16 he chose death — death for him and death for others.

“Our churches were able to provide places for people to go and talk about it and find some hope.”

Reilley said the church has to be involved in the gun violence crisis. She is a member of Moms Demand Action, a nationwide group of mothers calling for gun control.

She said the resources she has received from that group helped her talk to her congregation in the aftermath of this school shooting.

“Church members should be involved in all issues that concern them through means available, such as becoming aware of the stance of our political leaders on gun control and offering support to victims and first responders,” Reilley said.

“We have a voice, we have to use it.”

Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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