The chill in the morning November air would remind most everyone of the onset of autumn and the busy holiday season. In Ventura and LA Counties, however, there are more painful memories. Last year, days before the annual California wildfires would cut their path of destruction in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, there was an act of unspeakable terror that took place at the Borderline and Grill. On November 7, 2018, twelve lives were lost, including the life of first responder Sgt. Ron Helus, during a violent mass shooting attack.
There was a hush over the congregation the following Sunday. Everyone had trouble focusing, thinking…even speaking. The thoughts we had and words we tried to speak didn’t even come close to articulating our trauma, our feelings of anger and our grief for those who lost loved ones. Within shouting distance of Thanksgiving, it seemed as if everyone knew someone who had lost someone or something.
No word or gesture could erase the evil of the attack or the pain of the fires, but in the wake of such tragedy arose an act of friendship, love and support. Our dear sisters and brothers at First Congregational Church in Santa Barbara took on a labor of love in order to show us that they stood with us in our hour of need. On Sunday, December 18, two representatives brought us a “tree” made of 1000 expertly folded peace cranes and a carefully crocheted prayer shawl.
It’s true, this single act didn’t fix everything…or even anything. But it allowed a seed of peace to be planted in a time of unimaginable pain. It’s a reminder for us, one year after experiencing such tragedy, that there are acts of loving kindness that can be as small as folding a tiny crane that can grow and multiply into an acts of peace. It’s not everything, but it’s something in a world that needs some seeds of peace right now.
The letter accompanying the cranes and prayer shawl follows in its entirety:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ of Simi Valley United Church of Christ,
“Peace I leave with you, my friends.
Shalom, my peace in all you do.
Peace I leave with you, my friends. I give to you so you can give to others too.”
Every Sunday morning we leave our worship singing these words directly to each other. Today we offer them to you.
We were heartbroken to hear about the act of violence that occurred at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks on November 8. We want you to know that our church is holding you in our hearts. We pray that God’s comfort will surround you and that you may find hope in this dark time. Since we heard about this tragedy, our church has been diligently putting together a flock of 1,000 peace cranes to hopefully bless and help you heal during this time.
As a community that has gone through its own journey of pain and sorrow after the shooting in Isla Vista near UCSB in May 2014, we stand with you in this difficult time. We know that God’s peace “that surpasses understanding” is within our reach as we hold each other close and lift each other high.
We send you this flock as a sign and testament to our hope for peace in our world and believe that violence does not have the last word. These cranes were folded by our church family over the past few weeks and carry on a legacy that started some years ago. After the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, a flock of cranes from Pilgrim Christian Church, UCC, in Chardon, Ohio, arrived at the Newtown Congregational Church. The Chardon community had been through its own tragedy, and during those dark days received cranes from Saron UCC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Newtown sent the flock off to Old South Church in Boston after the 2013 marathon bombing and then folded a new flock of 1,000 cranes that were sent to Santa Barbara after the Isla Vista shootings.
We have blessed this flock in worship and now send it to you. We pray these cranes will nest with you as long as needed, but also trust that you will let them fly away when another congregation or community faces an act of gun violence. As we send our flock to you, we continue our ministry of folding peace cranes. Together we hope that one day these cranes will no longer have to migrate for the cause of peace. Finally, “may the peace of that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of God.” May God protect you, watch over you, and sustain you on your journey toward healing. May you be the face of HOPE to your community, sustained by the Advent promises of HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE.
Holding you close and lifting you high!
Rev. Greg Davis, Acting Pastor On Behalf of Members and Friends of First Congregational Church, UCC, Santa Barbara