Faith leaders provide Las Vegas support

More than 20,000 expected to need long-term trauma support

October 3, 2017

"As a country, we're not prepared for this level of long-term public violence trauma response."

—Rev. Jim Skillington, Center for Public Violence Recovery

Pastoral counseling, vigils, candlelight prayer services and even finding housing for survivors -- houses of worship in Las Vegas have been busy following the worst mass shooting in modern US history Sunday night.

Stephen Paddock, 64, a retired accountant from a nearby community, allegedly knocked out the window of his 32nd floor hotel room Sunday night and killed at least 59 people attending a music festival on the field below. More than 500 others were injured. Paddock died as police broke into his room.

In addition to local pastoral work, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is sending members of its National Response Team which specializes supporting faith partners who are dealing with incidents of public violence.

Many houses of worship have opened their doors for prayers and counseling since the event. Others announced plans for special services. Canyon Ridge streamed a service Monday night and received messages from across the country.

Local United Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian pastors have been among faith leaders actively involved in pastoral care.

The Rev. Jim Houston-Hencken, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas told the Presbyterian News Service that Grace is located across the street from two of the hospitals and the trauma center. In addition to collaborating with members of a local ministerial group to provide chaplain support, his church has had volunteers at the university medical center "providing food and whatever they can do in the immediate crisis.” Grace is also among local churches planning am evening service.

Canyon Ridge said on its Website Monday that it is offering to personally pray on one of its telephone prayer lines with those feeling anxious. The church also announced that it would attempt to provide housing and places to stay for people impacted by the shooting who may not have a local support network.

Desert Spring United Methodist Church in Las Vegas is also offering to help survivors who may not be able to get back into hotel rooms or need to stay in the area longer than planned. "We can provide housing; we can provide food; we can provide water; we can provide baby supplies," said the Rev. David Devereaux, the church's pastor told the United Methodist News Service.

The number of people traumatized by Sunday's event may be staggering over the long-term said the Rev. Jim Skillington, director of the Center for Public Violence who suggested more than 20,000 may have been traumatized.

"As a country, we're not prepared for this level of long-term public violence trauma response," he said.

"Pastors and other spiritual leaders will continue to help people who are struggling emotionally over the coming weeks and months," said the Rev. Hilda Pecoraro of the Presbytery of Nevada. "For those who experienced the trauma of seeing people fall all around them and the horror of being targeted by a gunman and feeling so vulnerable will also need our help,” she said. “For the 500 plus who are in the hospital, there are probably 10 to 20 times that number who will be suffering from emotional wounds."

"In most cases, those that have survived such trauma are in shock or bewilderment. They may also question their own faith, God’s goodness and fairness," said Jim Kirk, PDA's Associate for U.S. Disaster Response. "Tragedies like this can also cause someone to remember or re-live a trauma in their life."

"It’s heartbreaking for the victims and all those affected by this particular tragedy," said Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada. "It’s also heartbreaking for our society, that this keeps happening."

In addition to the ability to possess assault weapons in numbers beyond what would be needed for legitimate personal use, Edwards said he believes social issues of loneliness and isolation may contribute to these incidents.

"It’s not the guns alone. It’s the veneration of violence in our society," Edwards told the Episcopal News Service. "Our societal embrace of violence as a response to any form of unhappiness is a very serious spiritual concern. The churches have the primary responsibility for converting America away from the veneration of violence back to the prince of peace."

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