GALLIPOLIS — Members of both the faith-based community, civic organizations and government gathered at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church on Second Avenue Monday to discuss what could be done to unify communities in light of recent school violence having sparked concern and controversy across the country.
“The reason I wanted to call this meeting is that I feel that there is a lot of unexpressed fear, anxiety and grief, even some 2000 miles away from where the latest tragedy has occurred,” said Episcopal Church Priest-in-charge AJ Stack. “Probably at this point, it’s not the latest tragedy, frankly, which is sad…I think in our society our anxiety about the safety of our children, our own general safety, even if we’re not aware of it, is wreaking havoc on us as a people.”
Stack said he wanted to decide with others how to give voice to what he felt was communal anxiety in such a way as to take away its power over others.
“I have no agenda other than the community needs to be able to express this and then, at least for the faith leaders in this room, I would imagine all of us agree that the next thing needs to be said is that God is there too and does not turn away from unspeakable horror,” said Stack.
Pastor Vinton Rankin with Rio Grande Calvary Baptist Church said the first step he felt was making certain schools took reasonable measures to curtail attacks and to make certain children were able to tell the difference between different types of danger drills done. He said he knew area schools had already taken steps and wondered if citizens should be petitioning government to spend more on school safety. He encouraged parents to find out what steps their schools were taking to ensure student safety.
Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin said he felt area superintendents worked well with their students, area school resource officers and faculty in matters of safety. Area school systems were “ahead of the curve nationally” when pushing for active shooter defense training. Champlin said local policing agencies were working with the districts to accomplish that.
Pastor Joe Bowers of Gallipolis Christian Church acknowledged the desire for a call to action after prayer which at one point was discussed in to separate halves of the room. He noted that sometimes planning was part of the healing process with end goals in mind to work towards. Stack said ideally he would like to hold something such as a vigil for area residents to commune over those lost in recent attacks across the country.
Gallipolis First Presbyterian Church Interim Pastor Randy Terry suggested the possibility of having a wall where individuals might be able to post their thoughts and concerns. City Commissioner Tony Gallagher felt it was important to stress that such an event need be open to all in the community and even those who may not believe in God in order to unify the community. Making others feel welcome was important, he said, with others in the room agreeing.
How to make that happen though, the group was still unsure of. Stack felt residents could meet in the park and speak with a focus on student leaders and how they felt about current events.
Members of the meeting discussed the necessity of a mission statement in order guide their efforts. Unification, overcoming violence and fear were chief themes. Members said they would take the concerns of those that day and share them among their respective social circles in hopes of getting an event’s momentum started. Stack said ideally he would like the event to be “not political” and a means of bringing the community together.
Group members agreed to meet again at 10 a.m. the coming Monday in Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church to further plan with the meeting being open to those wishing to become involved.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.