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Intimate Azure Hills Vigil Creates Space for Mourning, Processing Emotions


GRAND TERRACE – The Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church held an intimate prayer vigil Friday night intended to commemorate those killed in the San Bernardino shooting, and to allow community members to begin a healing process. For organizers of the vigil, that process begins with fully experiencing the complex emotions that accompany a tragedy like this week's Southern California massacre. The service followed a liturgical movement through shock, sadness, anger and hope.

While the event was sparsely attended—some fifty or so participated, with more viewing via the church's livestream broadcast—the attendees included some high profile guests, including Congressman Pete Aguilar, who represents California's 31st Congressional District in the U.S. House. Southeastern California Conference President Sandra Roberts participated in the service, alongside Azure Hills pastors and church members. Riverside County Fire Department Chaplains John Hunter and Al Christiansen participated on behalf of first responders. They lit candles for each of the fourteen killed Wednesday, as the names of the deceased were read aloud.

The service began with photographs from news reports of the shooting, depicting the shock and the horror the shooting elicited. Alger Keough, Pastor for Community and interim pastoral team leader, offered an invocation and welcome.

A reading of sadness followed:

We're gathered here tonight in the name of Jesus, whom the New Testament writer described in the words of the prophet Isaiah as a man of sorrows–Someone familiar with our grief. One whose body was broken and whose blood poured out through an act of unspeakable violence.

He was one of us. Because aren't those words also our words?

We are a people of sorrows and far too familiar with grief. After Columbine, Ferguson, Paris, San Bernardino…Time and time again, our global community is re-acquainted with sorrow. The bodies of those we know and love are broken by acts of unspeakable violence, and so we gather together in the name of the one familiar with our grief. And if we have words to speak, they are words of invocation, calling on the Grieving God, asking through tears that at this time and in this place the Grieving God would also be Emmanuel, God with us.

Next, tribute was paid to victims' anger, and the names of each person killed in San Bernardino was read by pastoral intern Danielle Foré. 

Life is sacred. Life is fragile. On Wednesday, 14 lives were lost. We want to spend some time now to honor each one of these individuals. There are 14 beautiful long stemmed roses and 14 candles beside me. Each of these symbolizes a very special person… A sacred life. Two fire chaplains who responded to this crisis will be lighting our candles as we honor these lives.

• Shannon Johnson, 45, Los Angeles (DOB: 03/06/70)

• Bennetta Betbadal, 46, Rialto (DOB: 03/08/69)

• Aurora Godoy, 26, San Jacinto (DOB: 02/01/89)

• Isaac Amanios, 60, Fontana (DOB: 06/29/55)

• Daniel Kaufman, 42, Rialto (DOB: 08/12/73)

• Harry Bowman, 46, Upland (DOB: 06/08/69)

• Yvette Velasco, 27, Fontana (DOB: 04/03/88)

• Sierra Clayborn, 27, Moreno Valley (DOB: 06/15/88)

• Robert Adams, 40, Yucaipa (DOB: 05/02/75)

• Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Colton (DOB: 10/14/63)

• Tin Wen, 31, Santa Ana (DOB: 04/06/84)

• Juan Espinoza, 50, Highland (DOB: 06/24/65)

• Damian Meins, 58, Riverside (DOB: 02/02/57)

Michael Wetzel, 37, Lake Arrowhead (DOB: 04/29/78)

We want to invite you to name the anger that arises from this deep grief and loss. There is a section on the back of your bulletin where you have the opportunity to express your feelings to God. For some of us, this tragedy has triggered the pain of other losses in our lives. Perhaps a name of a loved one you’ve lost in your family, a loss of a job, or whatever this event has triggered for you. You may take the time now to name what has caused you anger and pain.

Sandra Roberts, President of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, participated by offering words of gratitude: "In the face of tragedy, we can also creat a space for gratitude," she said. "We are grateful for those in the community who brought hope through support, care and service in these moments of crisis. We are grateful for first responders, medical personnel, chaplains, city and government officials."

Pastor Marlene Ferreras offered a homily in which she invoked the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: "Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death."

Fourteen candles were lit during the service–one for each of those killed in the San Bernardino massacre.

Danielle Foré read the names of the victims aloud.

Riverside County Fire Chaplains lit candles of remembrance.

Marlene Ferraras spoke of hope amid tragedy.

Pastor Kyle Dever read a benediction of hope.

Congressman Pete Aguilar (right) met with and thanked the participants after the service.


Watch archived video of the livestream broadcast of the Prayer Vigil from the Azure Hills Church:

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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