Carrying his pain to the pulpit, the Rev. Chad Scruggs choked back emotion as he thanked his congregation for their support in his family’s season of grief, as he delivered his first sermon since a mass shooting claimed the life of his 9-year-old daughter Hallie two months ago.
“First of all, we love you,” Mr. Scruggs told a packed Covenant Presbyterian Church in his Mother’s Day sermon, his voice breaking. “We loved you before March 27, and we love you more now because of how you have loved us.”
He remarked that people continually ask how his family is doing, saying: “The answer you’ll typically get from us is, ‘We don’t know.’”
The church in Nashville, Tennessee, founded The Covenant School, where 28-year-old Audrey Hale, a biological woman who identified as male, killed Hallie and two other fourth-graders, as well as three adults on March 27. Police officers shot and killed Hale in the school.
Mr. Scruggs said he had looked for help in the writings of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who compared the loss of his wife, Joy, to an amputation in his book “A Grief Observed.”
“We’re learning to live with a part of us missing,” the pastor said. “Like losing an arm, perhaps, knowing that the phantom pain of that lost arm will always be there with us, just know that from our perspective now it feels impossible to ever pretend the arm will regenerate or that it will ever feel whole this side of heaven.”
He then cited the 40th chapter of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible, where the Jewish prophet refers to “trying to walk without fainting.”
Reflecting on the last words of Jesus dying on the cross in the Christian Gospel of John, he noted that families are “expanded and grown in him.”
“So what Jesus teaches us this morning is that mothers in him actually get more children, and brothers get more sisters, and children gain more parents,” Mr. Scruggs said, his voice trembling.
He said that while Christian hope “never erases the grief,” the women at the cross with Jesus suffered with him as he died. He thanked the congregation for doing the same for him, his wife and their three other children after the death of Hallie.
“You have showed up to suffer with us, which is an acknowledgement that love under the shadow of the cross is often best expressed not with words, but in presence and tears,” he added.
Authorities have not provided a motive for the mass shooting. A group of parents at The Covenant School have asked that the shooter’s writings remain sealed, citing the threat of copycat attacks.
In an email to The Washington Times, a spokeswoman said Mr. Scruggs is not available for interviews about his sermon.
“As I’m sure you can understand, he is focused on his family and the grieving and healing process. He is not engaging with media, participating in interviews, etc. at this time,” she said.
Leaders at the church and school — which concludes its academic year on Wednesday — had likewise asked not to be interviewed, the spokeswoman said. The Covenant School has about 209 students and about 50 employees.
“The church and school are focused on caring for the students, faculty, staff and families and ending the school year as well as possible,” the spokeswoman said.
In addition to Hallie Scruggs, 9-year-old classmates Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney died in the March 27 shooting.
The staff members also were killed: custodian Mike Hill, 61; head of school Katherine Koonce, 60; and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61.
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