No, she did not.  After so many days of waiting, there reached a point that we would not have wanted her to be suffering in the rubble all that time.  Who could have imagined such a thing happening?  The Pastors in the area were all at a conference about an hour and a half away.

When we first heard that there had been an explosion at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, none of us imagined the magnitude of it.  As we drove back, listening to the radio, we began to realize how serious it was.  Then we started trying to figure out if we had anyone in our congregation who worked in the building.  We phoned the office as we were traveling back and were reminded that Lee Sells worked in the building. When we arrived in OKC, I headed over to the Sells house right away.

Let me tell you about Roy and Lee.  They had been at the congregation almost since the very beginning.  In earlier years they were Youth Leaders.  They sang in the choir for over thirty years.  Unlike many Lutheran Churches, the choir pews were in the front of the church on one side in full view of the congregation every Sunday.

The Sunday I was Installed as Pastor at that church, in the afternoon at the reception, she informed me that she did not like facial hair on men.  I, of course, came with a beard.  Lee was not shy about voicing her opinion.

In their thirty some years of marriage, Roy and Lee had missed only five home or away Oklahoma University football games.  She was originally from Nebraska, but she became a fanatic OU fan.  In fact, if I remember correctly, one service (must have been an evening one during basketball season) as she was sitting in the choir pews in the front of the church in full view of the congregation, she had the telltale ear piece from her Walkman in her ear.

Roy and Lee were in the very center of the life of that congregation.  When I went to Roy’s house that terrible day, he had just returned from downtown having been turned away by the police.  He wanted to look for Lee.  People started gathering had their small house right away — relatives, neighbors, friends, many church people.

At first all eyes were glued to the television, hoping to hear some reporter say that she had been found.  Roy and the rest of us were freed from the television when someone from HUD phoned to assure Roy that he would hear from HUD long before there was any public news of finding her, or her remains.

People came and went through the open door of the Sells’ house for many days.  On Wednesday evening, a class of young children who were part of a program at church made cards and brought them over, each member of the class getting a hug from Roy.

The very first night of the day of the bombing, we had a spontaneous worship service at the church.  The attendance was about as many as came on Sundays, even though it was only by word of mouth that people found out about it.  That was one of the most powerful services I have ever experienced.  My message was short and to the point. The prayers spoken out loud by folks in the congregation (very unLutheran — we were at that time a very reserved group) were thoughtful, right up to prayers for the Perpetrator(s).  That was well before Timothy McVeigh had been stopped and arrested.

Immediately the first Sunday afterward, we began having two Child Psychologists available to help parents deal with their children.  Remember, a Day Care full of children was destroyed.  We had spent time with the teachers about how to bring the children out through drawings to get them talking about their potential fears.

I conducted a class for all who wanted to process their feelings for the next few weeks.  Some who had lost a spouse up to twenty years before, relived their grief.  Some worked on unresolved grief from the past.  Marriage Counseling immediately increased.  Those who had been suffering from Mental Illness already had flairups.  One of those who was schizophrenic and had often come to me for Pastoral Counseling as well as her Psychologist, decided that she was the cause of the bombing. A Firefighter in the congregation was overwhelmed with feelings when he saw the famous picture from the bombing, the Firefighter carrying out a limp little boy.  The Firefighter in our class had a son just about that child’s age.

One of the things that I insisted on was that the members of the congregation who were for any reason homebound receive a phone call to check on them.  After being glued to the television for so long at Roy’s house, I realized that those who have only the television to occupy their time might be getting terrified.  I wanted them to be encouraged to walk out of the door of their home and look around as a reality check.  The world was still going on even in the face of such a tragedy.  Their neighbors homes were still all there, the sun was shining, the trees and the grass were still budding out, some even blossoming.

There were training meetings for Pastors, as national level trainers came in to help.  The entire city came together as a close knit family, supporting one another.  Crime ceased entirely for the first few days.  Food was provided for any of the Volunteers, for all the meetings we had. Church folks from different brands who sometimes don’t get along, worked together.

The waiting at Roy’s house went on for ten days, until finally the call came for Roy and those of us who were supporting him to come downtown for the meeting each family had when their Loved One had been identified.  We sat in a large circle as the news was presented.  It was, of course, no surprise.  We had all just been anxious for it to be over.

That was one of the two largest funerals ever during my tenure. at that congregation.  We needed to work out closed circuit television for our Fellowship Hall so that the couple of hundred people in that room could be a part of what was going on.

The loss was terrible, but our congregation and a whole city discovered what it means to actually live in community with one another, giving and receiving support whenever needed — even if it was only for a relatively short period of time.  The residual benefit is the realization that such community can exist at all.  It provides reason to hope.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Advertisements