By Shireen Korkzan/Episcopal News Service
June 16 marked one year since three Episcopalians were killed in a shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.
The three victims — Jane Pounds, 84, Bart Rainey, 84, and Sharon Yeager, 75, longtime parishioners of St. Stephen’s — were participating in a potluck inside the church’s parish hall when an occasional churchgoer opened fire. Two died at the scene and one died later in the hospital. In May, the shooter pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“By now, most of the story has been told and forgotten by others in the world who have moved on with their lives, and that is okay with me,” James W. Musgrove, Jr., a parishioner of St. Stephens, wrote in an essay. “For those of us at Saint Stephens, however, our memories and pain will never end.”
Musgrove was awarded the Carnegie Medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, North America’s highest honor for civilian heroism, for subduing the shooter until police arrived. His essay was published in “The Light Shines in the Darkness: Choosing Hope after a Mass Shooting,” a compilation of essays written by 42 parishioners of St. Stephen’s reflecting on the tragedy and the lifelong healing process.
The essay collection was edited by parishioner Melinda Rainey Thompson, a local author and Bart Rainey’s daughter. She’s also an English professor at Birmingham-Southern College.
To honor Pounds, Rainey and Yeager, St. Stephen’s observed the one-year anniversary of the shooting with a special evening worship service attended by hundreds of people, followed by a reception. Earlier in the day, a labyrinth memorial garden, which includes a plaque and three sheet-water fountains symbolizing Pounds, Rainey and Yeager, was unveiled to the public. The current plaque is temporary and will be replaced by a permanent one later.
Shooting survivors and the victims’ families arrived at St. Stephen’s earlier in the day for private reflection and prayer.
“How can we not give thanks to three of the most faithful people that this community has ever met? They lived in a life of the ultimate witness to God’s love, and there’s a sense of incredible gratitude,” the Rev. John Burruss, rector of St. Stephen’s, told Episcopal News Service.
Counselors were available on site for anyone in need throughout the course of the day.
In the weeks after the shooting, people wrote prayers and reflections on brightly colored ribbons and tied them on wire in front of the altar. Liz Edge, a St. Stephen’s parishioner and a local artist, used the ribbons to create a special altar frontal and stoles for clergy that were used during the evening service.