Memphis churches weep together over mass slayings
Mar. 20, 2008
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Donna Thurmond*
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS)--"Tonight we weep. Tomorrow we work," said the Rev. Kenneth Robinson, at a community worship service sparked by the gruesome local slayings of four adults and two children.
More than 2,000 people attended the interfaith service, held March 12 at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. The murders are believed to have taken place about 10 days earlier in a small brick home on Lester Street, in the low-income community known as Binghamton.
In response, clergy leaders across all economic and racial strata of the city canceled regular Wednesday evening church events to bring their congregations together in an act of grief and prayer.
"A faith that will not fail will give meaning to this senseless loss of life," said Robinson, pastor of St. Andrew AME Church, in his message at the memorial.
Worshippers were asked to consider ways they could make a difference in their communities.
Lester Street killings
Police said the March 2 crime was the city's worst multiple murder in 15 years.
Shot and killed were Cecil Dotson, 30; Marissa Rene Williams, 27; Hollis Seals, 33; and Shindri Roberson, 22. Dotson's two sons, Cemario, 4, and Cecil II, 2, also were stabbed to death. Three other children, ranging in age from 2 months to 9 years old, were critically injured.
One of the surviving children later identified Cecil Dotson's brother as the killer. Jessie Dotson, 33, was charged March 8 with six counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. Police believe an argument between the two brothers led to the killings.
At the interfaith memorial, offering plates were passed for the Lester Street Victims Fund, to help pay for the funerals of the dead and the futures of the surviving children. The religious community already had raised $20,000 for the fund.
The theme of the evening was "Deliver Us From Evil," and participants remembered Ecclesiastes 3 in noting that now is a "time to weep" and also to "love up on one another."
"We carry common convictions, and our destinies are intertwined," said Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel. "We care about the safety of our children. Pray as if everything depends on God. God is in the response."
"Let us not forget how good 'good' is, and let us not underestimate the power of good," said the Rev. Frank Thomas, pastor of the host church. "The power of good in mentoring, teaching parenting skills and conflict resolution, becoming neighborly, and becoming better neighbors" is taking that step toward change, he said.
Richard Janikowski, a professor at the University of Memphis, shared crime statistics showing the city's homicide rate is down 18 percent from a year ago. He said the media often overlooks such positives.
Janikowski said the most effective tools to reduce violence are individuals and individual churches working together to address the roots of crime, which begin in early childhood. "We know what works. We just need the resolve to do something about it," he said.
'It gave me hope'
Libby Short, a member at Germantown United Methodist Church, came to the service at the urging of her pastor, the Rev. Rick Kirchoff.
"I am so thankful to have been a part of one of the most inspiring and hopeful events I have ever been privileged to attend," she said. "If you depend on the media for news of what is going on in the city, you mentally start drawing in and feel you should stay in your home with the doors bolted.
"The atmosphere during the service was so full of hope and love," she said. "Strangers hugged strangers and made you feel so welcome. It gave me hope that the faith-based community will join together to make a difference in Memphis."
Clergy participating in the service included Kirchoff; the Rev. Johnny Jeffords, Saint John's United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Scott Morris, a physician with the Church Health Center.
*Thurmond is communications director for Germantown (Tenn.) United Methodist Church.
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