The outbreak of ‘Amazing Grace’ ended a candlelight vigil at the Donor Circle on Oct. 30. The vigil was held in memory of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting on Oct. 27. Eleven people died and six were injured in the gunfire at the synagogue.
A team of students and faculty put the vigil together as a way to process the events of the weekend. The message of the vigil, according to University President Elizabeth Stroble, was to seek to learn from each other in order to create a society in which each of us belong and prosper.
Colette Cummings is the Associate Dean of Students and is a staff member at Webster’s Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs office. Cummings was part of the team of students and faculty that organized the vigil and procured the candles for the event.
“The importance of the vigil is to give people the opportunity to sit in their grief,” Cummings said.
Before the vigil began, organizers handed out blue cards to attendees with the name of a person who died in the last year due to gun violence. Stroble said these cards were used to remember and mourn not only those who passed in the Tree of Life Synagogue tragedy but also those who have passed in other shootings.
Mort Whitman is a former Webster University staff member. He said he attended the vigil to show support for the community.
“The [vigils] bring the community together. It’s a response to national disasters that affect all of us,” Whitman said.
Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster began the vigil with opening statements about the Webster community coming together in times of crisis. Both mentioned that nothing could shift the foundation of Webster’s diverse community.
“We are also showing that no fear will shake our foundation and have this community regardless of race, choices that we made, ethnic origin, you name it,” said Schuster.
Students spoke to the group from the perspective of their various faiths. A Jewish student shared an ancient Hebrew blessing called Mi Shebeirach. A“mi shebeirach” is a public prayer or blessing of healing.
A Christian graduate student read a section of the New Testament. The readings focused on loving your neighbor.
A Muslim student recited a verse from the Quran. The verse elaborated on how killing one child of God is equivalent to the slaying of mankind, but the saving of one child of God is saving all of mankind.
Vincent C. Flewellen is the new Chief Diversity Officer at Webster and spoke during the vigil. He quoted German theologian Martin Niemöller’s famous poem. The poem is about Niemoller’s complacency with the rise of Hitler in the 1930s.
Keith Welsh, a Religious Studies Professor at Webster, also spoke during the vigil. He introduced a grieving ritual with a bowl of water passed around the crowd.
“Water does many things, including flow down our faces when we cry,” Welsh said. “It is right to grieve. There is a moment for grieving, and we grieve together as a community.”
During closing statements, everyone in attendance touched the water as a symbol of their grief. John Buck ended the night by leading the congregation in reciting the Webster pledge.
“As we mourn the loss of those far away, we’re hopeful that we can aspire to be the people that the world needs us to become to be,” Buck said.