Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville mourns victims of church shooting.
A gunman interrupted the performance of a children’s musical on Sunday morning, July 27, at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and injuring six others. Greg McKendry, an usher at TVUUC, died at the scene. Linda Kraeger, a member of the Westside church, died that evening. Another Westside member, Joe Barnhart, and several members of his extended family were injured. (see below for a link to an interview with Barnhart.)
Nathan Schulman, a member of Westside’s worship committee, explained by email, “The fabric of our church community has been torn. To help us acknowledge this, we organized a rending-of-the-garment ritual, which was borrowed from the Jewish tradition.”
Schulman and fellow worship committee member Sue Draper tore a T-shirt that bore the Westside logo and the signatures of many church members in the August 10 worship service.
Schulman said that the torn shirt will be displayed in the sanctuary for about a year. Then, the shirt will be coarsely mended, using thread of a contrasting color. “The shirt will be usable again, but it will never be the same as it was before,” he said, “just as our community will never be the same as we were before.”
The ritual was done “to make visible the inward hurt we feel at having been attacked as well as the pain we feel at having lost Linda,” wrote the Rev. Mitra Jafarzadeh, Westside’s minister, in an email.
According to a Jewish custom, following a death, mourners tear a piece of clothing symbolizing the physical separation brought by death as well as the destruction of the body but the continuation of the soul.
“I couldn’t have thought of a better way to begin the healing process,” said Westside congregation president Dawn Lindsay. “It was simple but effective.”
Jafarzadeh said that the ritual was the idea of the congregation’s worship committee. “The worship committee meeting was the first regularly scheduled meeting after the shooting,” she said. “I told them that this was not ‘normal time’ and that we couldn’t continue as if this were normal time. I said that they could be creative in what they did to recognize that.”
“It’s a graphic and violent act to tear the fabric of a shirt,” Jafarzadeh continued. “But with the mending of the shirt there’s a corresponding promise that there will be healing.”
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.