(Photo: Reuters/Jason Hatfield)
Churches in the city of Aurora and much of Colorado held special prayer services and vigils Friday night in response to a mass shooting in which 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded inside a theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. Pastors and ministry leaders are making not only their churches available, but their spiritual counsel as well.
The gunman identified by police as James Holmes is reported to have committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
In addition to a two-hour open time of prayer in its chapel Friday evening, church leaders of Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch announced that this coming Sunday's message to be given by Lee Strobel has been changed due to the tragedy.
"The community has been terribly shaken by the tragic shooting in Aurora. Christians have been responding with prayer vigils and reaching out to hurting families with support and counseling," Strobel told The Christian Post Friday evening. "Our church swung open our chapel for prayer and scrapped plans for our Sunday services. I was supposed to speak on the topic of marriage, but we've postponed that so I can address the question on many minds: Why does God allow tragedy and suffering?"
"Obviously, the affected families don't need a theological treatise right now; they desperately need the very real presence of Jesus in their lives, and that's what our church and many others are helping them experience," he added. "But still, many folks want to know why there's so much violence in the world if God is good. It's a legitimate question. I'll be turning to God's Word for guidance on how we can process this issue."
In response to the shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, Dr. Chris Hill, senior pastor of The Potter's House of Denver, opened the church for special prayer at 12 noon on Friday. Pastors and grief counselors were available to counsel with anyone in need.
"We are praying and will continue to pray for the victims and family members affected by the mass shooting in Aurora," said Dr. Hill. "Many of our church members are citizens of Aurora, so this tragedy truly strikes home for us. We are standing in prayer and support to assist our community in any way that we can."
United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology kept its chapel open for prayer all day, according to The United Methodist News Service.
The Rev. Gil Caldwell was pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver, when the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School occurred, UMNS reported. The church is just 20 miles from Aurora.
"Today, regardless of who we are, where we live or what our politics may be, we are all 'family,'" Caldwell said. "And even though it is a greater challenge, my Christian faith compels me to remember the one who did the killing as well as his family. Tragedies like this evoke anger, questions and doubts in most of us. But my faith keeps me from falling victim to hatred."
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver was scheduled on Friday evening to preside over a Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church for the victims, families and others affected by the movie theater shootings, the Catholic News Agency reported. The church is the closest Catholic church to the Century Aurora 16 where the shooting took place.
Archbishop Aquila and Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley issued a statement Friday morning in response to the shootings.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted by this evil act," they said. "They do not stand alone. As Catholic bishops, we 'weep with those who weep.'"
In reference to the shooter the bishops added, "Evil ruled his heart last night. Only Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of such evil. We hope that all of us may find the peace which surpasses understanding."
The Rev. Gary R. Brower, an Episcopal priest and university chaplain at the University of Denver, wrote in an email to Episcopal News Service that "given the deep wounds of Columbine, this particular tragedy hits us all pretty hard. And, of course, we've been reeling from the loss of hundreds of homes in recent forest fires. This has been a difficult summer."
Brower, who lives several miles from the movie theater, told ENS he is not sure if anyone his family knows or anyone connected with the university was affected by the shootings. However, "given the number of faculty, staff and students who live in Aurora, I can't imagine that 'six degrees of separation' will describe the impact," he said.
In an email to CP, Strobel gave further detail about the focus of his message for this coming Sunday.
"We may not have the entire answer in this life (1 Corinthians 13:12), but there are some things we can know. For instance, it's important for people to understand that God is not the creator of evil and suffering; that even though suffering isn't good, God can use it to accomplish good; that the day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil; that our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store in eternity for His followers; and that we need to decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage (John 16:33)."
"These are difficult times for Colorado, in light of the shootings as well as the recent wildfires that have ravaged the state. Fortunately, we have hope through Christ. A lot of people are finding out that's not just a cliché; at times like this, God is all we have to cling to," Strobel said.