MOSCOW, Idaho _ Weary but united, they found strength in song and prayer.
“I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light,” members of Moscow’s First Presbyterian Church sang Sunday.
The stoic propped up those overcome with emotion as they gathered at the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music to worship together on the 127-year-old church’s darkest day.
Parents held their children close, and the faithful from Moscow’s other churches joined with them in solidarity.
Just hours after a gunman desecrated the church’s sanctuary by shooting sexton Paul Bauer and himself, after killing a police officer and gunning down two others, choir director Ranger Moore discarded his previously planned song line-up to find hymns to sustain the congregation in its grief.
So they sang.
They sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” They sang “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” – songs to inspire courage, faith and hope.
And they prayed.
They prayed for their sexton, for Officer Lee Newbill killed outside, for injured sheriff’s Deputy Brannon Jordan, for an unidentified wounded civilian, for their families and friends.
They prayed for the gunman.
Attendees were saddened and shocked.
“It’s been a long day already,” said church deacon Sharon Scott as she walked up to the music building before the service.
“We don’t always know what to do with our grief, with what shouldn’t have happened,” preached First Presbyterian Pastor Norman Fowler.
Fowler had planned to be on a plane Sunday with 18 other church members, bound for a rebuilding effort in Pearlington, Miss., devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Instead Fowler found himself asking God for divine inspiration to shore up his flock at home.
“I’m not prepared with a sermon, but then, I wasn’t prepared for last night either,” he told the congregation. “Or was I? In some ways I’ve been preparing my entire life … preparing for times when we need to know God loves us.”
Fowler spoke of Bauer’s faith, of the importance of supporting one another, of God’s mercy in saving Deputy Brannon Jordan.
“Brannon was saved by a tree, and so were we, and Paul (Bauer) knew that, too,” Fowler said, referring to Christ on the cross.
He later said in an interview: “Preparing this morning was basically leaving it up to the spirit to move me.”
The congregation offered up prayers and memories during the service, recalling their sexton and his generous spirit.
“I can’t remember Paul without a smile on his face,” said Dan Crimmins, who said Bauer rarely spoke about himself but recently described his great joy working for the congregation.
Carol Crimmins was at the church Saturday, helping with a wedding. She returned later in the evening to find Bauer fixing a drip line to water the grounds.
“One of the last things he did was something for us as a church,” she said through tears.
Returning to the church’s 65-year-old building is something that members of the congregation said they will do, but for most, it’s too soon to contemplate.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought about going back into the church,” said Fowler.
“It’s going to be hard to get through, especially with two people dying in the church,” said Scott.
But after 20 years with the congregation, Scott is resolved to return. “I’d have been in today if they’d let us.”