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Janine Larsen, District Executive of the Pacific Northwest District wrote a wonderful list of advice which I share below.   

Ian Evison

Congregational Service Director, Central Midwest District of the UUA

Pacific Northwest District logo

My dear fellow lay leaders: 

We are all affected by the tragedy at our Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, where a despondent gunman opened fire at Sunday Services, killing two and wounding eight others. He is in custody, leaving behind a note stating that his target was intentionally chosen to express his rage at "the liberal movement."

Our congregants need our leadership now. Perhaps the most important aspect of effective trauma response is immediate attention. I call you to help be that calm, compassionate, reassuring presence for your congregation.

Here are things you can do and share with your congregation immediately:
  • Watch the UUA website for information and resources for your congregation. This will be developing over the next few days, so visit often. Hold a candlelight vigil, and take pictures to send to the Thomas Jefferson District office -- they will put together a scrapbook to present later to the Knoxville congregation. Please email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  •  UUA President William Sinkford will participate in a candlelight vigil in Knoxville at 7:30 PM ET. Many congregations around the country are holding vigils at this time. If you hold your vigil at a later time, you may wish to encourage your congregants to hold a private moment of silence to coincide with the Knoxville vigil.
  • Invite other faith communities and elected officials to join you at your vigil.  
  • A vigil may have an opening and closing prayer; otherwise the time can be silent and/ or can provide an opportunity for any to speak spontaneously about what is in their hearts. Length of time varies - should be long enough to allow late-comers to join in, and short enough to allow a quiet leave taking. Those who wish to stay longer should be allowed to do so.  (If in your sanctuary, provide a companion who is able to stay in the building until the last mourner has left). 
  • Knowing that local media may show up to a vigil, it would be wise to appoint a spokesperson who is able to speak eloquently to the press. 
  • A public display of mourning and solidarity is appropriate. Congregations may wish to appropriately decorate their most publicly visible signage with flowers, rainbow banners, photos of TVUUC, etc. This display can remain for a week or however long feels right. 
  • You may wish to place a print display ad in your local paper, expressing mourning and solidarity for your brothers and sisters in faith, along with your congregation's address and time of services, and a link to UUA website for more info related to our faith response.  We have asked the UUA to provide a sample layout which congregations may modify. I will let you know when that is available; feel free to create your own.
  • You may have an influx of visitors on Sunday, wishing to show solidarity and sympathy, or just now aware of UU. Be ready to welcome them. 
  • Plan to include a moment of silence and/ or other acknowledgement in next Sunday's service. If you are able to provide a sermon and theme around response to mourning and religious values, do so. If your Sunday service is lay-led, you may wish to include pastoral messages from the UUA, or other UU ministers (watch the UUA website).  
  • Please do NOT send email to TVUUC at this time - the church has been so inundated that they have had to suspend their email service. If you wish to send a card, you may mail it to Tennessee Valley UU Church, 2931 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919-4624. [or post a message of support on http://knoxvillesupport.blogspot.com/]
  • Please wait before sending flowers, money, etc., so that we can be sure to send what is most needed. We will count on the UUA to advise us of this, and expect that this announcement will be out before the end of the week so a collection can be taken at next Sunday's services, if appropriate. 
  • Wearing UU t-shirts, jewelry, etc., will feel good right now. It's a way to reinforce your own commitment to our religious values, and to show solidarity with our Knoxville sisters and brothers in faith who have been killed and wounded, and their loved ones. Be prepared to accept expressions of sympathy from others if you wear these in public. You may wish to have your "elevator speech" ready for those who had not heard about UU before this, and now want more info. 

A reminder that trauma brings chaos and shock. The most important thing to provide your congregants is a sense of steadiness and presence, with reassurance that this is the time to care for one another and allow yourselves to simply feel. Hold off on the impulse to react in ways that may not ultimately be helpful - allow yourself to breath and have patience - wisdom will emerge as life comes back into balance, and that is the time to make decisions. For now, care for yourself and for one another. 

May peace be with you, and all of us.

Yours in faith and love,
Janine Larsen, District Executive
Pacific Northwest District
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
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