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Faith communities gather to grieve, remember and pray after Highland Park parade tragedy

Posted: July 6 2022 at 12:09 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, NIC Dir. of Communications


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During a July 5th prayer vigil, Rev. Cal Haines, Lake Bluff: Grace, Deacon Patricia Bonilla, and Rev. Esther Lee, Deerfield: Christ, hold candles and remember the victims and those injured at the Highland Park 4th of July parade.

On the morning of the 4th of July, Rev. Esther Lee at Christ UMC in Deerfield, Ill., was busy getting ready to welcome the community back to parade festivities after a two-year break due to the pandemic.

“I was setting up for our annual 400 hot dog giveaway and opening our doors when the news alert came across my phone about a shooting,” Lee said. “I said to myself that can’t be us, but then we saw all the emergency vehicles speeding down the road.”

Soon after, Lee and church volunteers helping that morning began learning more details about a mass shooting at the Highland Park parade in their neighboring community just three miles away, and the Deerfield parade would be canceled.

Linda Floren, a longtime member of Christ UMC, was volunteering that morning and said it got scarier and scarier the more they saw emergency vehicles and police cars from many towns racing past the church towards Highland Park.

“We just started calling and texting everybody we knew,” said Floren, who said many Christ UMC members are Highland Park residents. “Some were hunkered down and some flew to safety, but all were OK.”

Like many, Floren said they felt frightened and confused. “We did impromptu prayers on the patio,” said Floren. “I think we were just frozen in fear, not knowing what we should do, but we wanted to be here for each other, yet wanted to get home and get safe.”

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The night after the horrific mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, strollers and items left behind by fleeing parade-goers remain on the street.

What was supposed to be a day of celebration and fun turned into sheer chaos, trauma, fear and unimaginable heartache after a gunman opened fire on parade-goers killing seven people and wounding dozens more.

To bring the community words of solace, leaders of many denominations and faiths came together to offer prayers of healing and hope at area churches and synagogues the day after the tragedy.

Christ UMC opened its doors to the community for a prayer vigil on July 5 offering the singing of “Amazing Grace,” scripture readings, lighting of candles and a time to remember the victims and their families.

“We come here with grief, fear, anger, longing for peace and healing comfort,” said Lee. “We long for an end to gun violence and the pain of losing loved ones in such tragic ways.”

Rev. Cal Haines, who is newly appointed to Grace UMC in nearby Lake Bluff, participated in the vigil by reading scripture.

“Throughout the New Testament when people are in trouble, they come together,” said Haines. “Community is the one thing we can embrace and share our shared experiences. We don’t have the answers. It’s frightening. It’s frustrating, but it’s really important to be together in a crisis like this.”

The Rev. Jake Cho moved to Highland Park two weeks ago with his wife and 7-month-old daughter to begin his new appointment at Galilee UMC in Highland Park and had just begun exploring the downtown area. He planned to take his family to the parade but something came up and they didn't go. He said he was shocked and distraught to hear the news of the deadly mass shooting that morning.

“I haven’t been able to sleep. I feel so helpless and furious at the same time,” said Rev. Cho. “My heart is so heavy for all the victims of the shooting and I cannot stop thinking, what if my family was one of them.”

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Rev. Jake Cho, who moved to Highland Park two weeks ago for his new appointment at Galilee UMC, prays for the shooting victims whose names are on seven crosses outside Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

While still so new to the community, Rev. Cho found ways to offer pastoral care through Facebook and spent time in the downtown area the day after the tragedy providing prayers and blessings to whoever needed them. He also participated in an evening Interfaith/Ecumenical prayer service on July 5 held at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, which included elected officials and faith leaders from the surrounding communities.

“I encourage you to cry with one another. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to grieve,” said Cho to those gathered at the vigil. “Lord, be with us in our struggles, in our weeping, in our pains and may the peace of Christ be felt by those who weep together.”

The vigil included naming the seven victims, followed by a moment of silence. The Rev. Quincy Worthington of Highland Park Presbyterian Church provided words of hope.

“We gather here tonight in the hope and promise that we might see God in our midst on the face of each of us, and we might feel God working healing through us,” said Worthington. “We are in a time of deep hurt and time of darkness, and yet we hold fast to the hope that somehow and someway there’s a light that shines through this darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome.”

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Trained dogs help bring comfort to people struggling with grief and sorrow outside the prayer vigil at Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

Still shaken, Illinois State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest) shared how she was at the parade with her grandchildren and called the mass shooting a "massacre."

“It’s not a word we use very often, but that’s what happened,” said Morrison describing the horrific tragedy. “We all have suffered a real loss. We really lost the state of innocence, but coming together tonight, we are collectively wrapping our arms around each other, leaning upon each other and knowing with the help of God we will go forward.”

The Rev. Dale Susan Edmonds, pastor at Trinity UCC in Deerfield, introduced a time of prayer to close the service. 

“Lord, we are shaken and bewildered. Our safety is shattered. Our hearts are broken. Our faith stunned and quivering,” Edmonds prayed. “Steady us Lord, that we may hear you and that we may feel you. Open us up to the possibility that we may see a new way to be together in this world.”

Highland Park Galiliee Umc Vigil Photo By Won J Park 16

People of all backgrounds and religions gathered at Galilee Korean UMC on July 6 for a prayer vigil to stand in solidarity with Highland Park. Photo by Won Jung Park, Journalist/Producer for Korean American News Magazine Chicago

On Wednesday, July 6, Pastor Cho led a prayer vigil at his Highland Park church, which is located just blocks away from the parade route and site of the rampage. United Methodist clergy and members from neighboring churches attended the service to stand in solidarity with Highland Park. A crisis response canine team from New Jersey also came to support and provide comfort to those attending the prayer vigil and the community. Click here for more photos from Journalist/Producer Won Jung Park for Korean American News Magazine Chicago.

The Glencoe Clergy Association, which North Shore UMC is a part of and borders Highland Park, held a candlelight vigil at Am Shalom on Thursday, July 7 in Glencoe. Three members of Am Shalom were shot and are recovering. North Shore Congregation Israel lost Jacki Sundheim, a beloved staff member. An Interfaith Service was held at Glencoe Union Church and North Shore held a healing service, both on Sunday, July 10.

"Sunday’s afternoon worship was a service that touched on the anguish of the community and the need for an end to gun violence," said Rev. Barb Javore, Deacon at North Shore UMC and president of the Glencoe Clergy Association. Javore spoke with ABC7 saying that it's going to take a long time for this community to heal. Watch the report.

Many other churches and pastors across the Northern Illinois Conference called out the violence and offered prayers during this time of tremendous heartache. Kingswood UMC in Buffalo Grove opened its sanctuary last week for people to come and pray and held a special prayer time during Sunday's services.

"As we continue to shed tears, Jesus is calling us to do more for peace and healing. I ask you to move beyond just prayers to action—actions to help Highland Park and actions to end gun violence in every place," Kingswood's Rev. James Preston wrote in an email to the congregation.

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A memorial of flowers and candles for the victims and all those injured grows on the sidewalk near the blocked-off area of the shooting.

At the site of the parade tragedy, a flower memorial grows along the sidewalk. Many strollers, chairs and other items left behind by fleeing parade-goers remain in the secured area, and when the crime tape is eventually removed, the grieving process will continue one day at a time. 

Faith leaders say the community is stronger together and the pastors said they will continue to be available alongside all those who need support and a place to find comfort in the days and months to come.

“No matter why we come, rather for comfort or hope with every worry, all of your anger, all the sadness and anxiety, all are welcome in this space,” Lee said to those gathered at the Christ UMC vigil. “May we listen and look for God’s presence in this time and may God’s presence surround us, comfort us and hold us in this moment.”

Read Bishop John L. Hopkins' statement on the parade tragedy.

Gun Violence Prevention Resources:

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