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Congregating to heal

MONDAY, JUNE 4, 2007

MOSCOW – Before services began Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church here, Pastor Norman Fowler met first with the children.

Fowler wanted to help the youngest members of his congregation return to “a place that has been visited by violence.”

“To let them know it was safe,” Fowler said.

After helping them return to Room 33, where they gather for Bible study inside the 127-year-old church, the pastor guided more than 300 singing church members as they re-entered the church sanctuary and took their places among the pews.

It was the first service in the building since a gunman opened fire in the community May 19. Before shooting himself inside the church’s sanctuary, Jason Hamilton killed the church sexton and a police officer and wounded two others. He also killed his wife, Crystal Hamilton, before the downtown shootings.

“Like a strong wind, the spirit of life in Christ magnificently clears the air, freeing us and our church from the tyranny of evil,” the congregation prayed.

They sang song after song about coming together, and finding home.

“Today was a journey with God back into the place we had left,” Fowler said after the services, where the entire congregation gathered on the front lawn in the hot sun, sipping punch and eating cookies. “To move through to come back to the space we have always known.”

It was hard to tell that two weeks ago the tree-lined street connecting the church, Moscow High School and the courthouse looked more like a battle zone. City officials are calling the shooting the worst in the city’s history.

On Sunday, church members talked little of the horrific details of the shooting; instead they focused on the strength of their community. They smiled, welcomed and thanked each other for being there. As they left the sanctuary, each stopped to embrace Fowler, with a smile and a handshake.

“It’s been a sad time,” said church member Joyce Hudson, who has been coming to the church since she was a child. “But we will get through it, and will continue to support each other.”

The congregation will meet again on Tuesday to mourn the loss of Paul Bauer, who served as the church caretaker and lived in an on-site apartment. Bauer was found shot to death in a church office. His memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. at the church.

“What has really been helpful is the support from the local and wider community,” Fowler said. “We’ve received letters and cards from all over the country. It’s been a blessing.”

Members of denominations and churches from all over the region were in attendance Sunday in support of the Moscow congregation.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” said Greg Skinner, the assistant pastor at The United Church of Moscow. “I’ve been so impressed with how they’ve overcome.”

Con and Leanah Shallau drove from Spokane Sunday morning to worship at the First Presbyterian Church. The Shallaus were members several years ago before moving to Washington.

“It really grieved a lot of people, to think that such a thing could happen here,” said Con Shallau. “We just wanted to share in their renewal.”


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