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A message from Bishop Russell on the tragedy at Saint Stephen's in Vestavia Hills

Dear friends,

“Love endures all things, bears all things. Love never ends.” I Corinthians 13:7

It is because of the power of that eternal love, that this morning my heart is fractured, and my soul is numb. Those involved in last night’s tragedy at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills were my people; for eight years, I was their priest. I still love them. The Bishop’s crozier I carry was a gift to me from the people of Saint Stephen’s.

Two weeks ago while serving as dean of the senior high session of summer camp, I confessed to the teenagers that there have been times in my life when I tried to not believe in God - times in my life that I was driven into the breathless abyss of suffering.

Little did I know then that this morning I would feel once again that terrifying and numbing vacuum of despair.

Of the three victims of this atrocity, I buried the husband of one, married the daughter of another and baptized the grandchild of the third. I spent every Tuesday morning in Men’s Bible Study with one. He always brought his King James Version of the Bible. All three volunteered their time in our church office. One of the three washed and ironed the altar linens every week. She would do so next to the altar. She told me, “This is where and when God and I really talk.” Such holy moments are the intimate privilege of being a priest. I could go on, but the point is that these three children of God loved their church, and they loved their Lord.

At summer camp, I also told the teens that in those troubled times, as much as I tried to not believe, I cannot not believe in God. This morning I opened up the Daily Office on my iPad [because that is how we pray these days] and the psalm appointed for today is Psalm 88. I urge you to find The Book of Common Prayer and read that particular translation. Here is a portion:

11 Do you work wonders for the dead? *

will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

12 Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *

your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

13 Will your wonders be known in the dark? *

or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

14 But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; *

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

The psalm ends with this, “And darkness is my only companion.”

Along with those words, there are the many messages of love and hope so many of you have sent me. One person wrote, “I have no words adequate to the tragedy.” Words may not be adequate, but in every word shared in love, there is also the Word. And that Word, which is God’s love, is powerful.

So, in the darkness, I believe. I am grateful for your expressions of love and hope for the people of Saint Stephen’s. I am humbled by the number of people from all over the world that are praying for them. Let us continue to hold the light of Christ for them.

Peace be with you.



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