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HELP IN TIMES OF COMMUNITY CRISIS

by Rev. Ruth and Rev. Arnold Lotholz

On a number of occasions, I was able to talk live to the people of the listening area, and assure them of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Even though you don’t look for incidents such as this to get the message across, this tragedy did open that door.
March 3, 2005, is a date that is deeply etched into the fabric of my mind as well as the minds of the people of Mayerthorpe, Alberta, and our nation, Canada. On this day, four young RCMP members lost their lives to a psychopath—a man who harboured a deep hatred for those in authority.

The day, started out like any other, with people going about their usual tasks. Being a bivocational minister, I was scheduled to do some electrical work at our local RCMP detachment. I had hardly begun when a call came over the police radio that there were officers down at a location where the RCMP had spent most of the previous night doing an investigation.

My role changed from being an electrician to the one that I carried in the community—being the director of emergency management for our town. One of the first things I did was contact my wife and ask her immediately to begin calling people in the community who participated in prayer chains and have them pray for the situation. Because of the length of time it took for information to emerge, I was unable to go into much detail.

It was not until mid-afternoon that the word finally came in that four of our RCMP members had been killed along with the gunman. Shortly after this news was released, other members of the detachment began to arrive. They had been out that day on another assignment and were not fully aware of everything that was happening. I was at the detachment and was able to meet with each member as they returned, ministering to them in their time of sorrow.

From that day on, over the course of the next two weeks, I spent a lot of time with the RCMP family, reminiscing about the good times, but also grieving the loss of four of their own. I met with them in their homes and at work. It was not only the local detachment I was working with, but also members from many other detachments who came to help in the investigation and take over the regular duties. The local schools also called for help to provide support to students who were deeply affected by the tragedy.

It did not take long before my cellphone began to ring, and I found myself talking to the media across our nation. On a number of occasions, I was able to talk live to the people of the listening area, and assure them of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Even though you don’t look for incidents such as this to get the message across, this tragedy did open that door.

On the Sunday following the tragedy, the media requested permission to attend the church services in Mayerthorpe, to which all of the churches agreed. The way our service times were scheduled, our service was the last one of the day, and we had all of the media present for a good part of the service.

A candlelight vigil was requested by the community, and our church hosted a vigil the Wednesday following the shooting. Many people from the town and surrounding area attended this service, and our church was packed. This gave the people of the community an opportunity to express their loss. After a short introduction, participants were invited to come forward, light a candle and pray publicly. It was during this time that healing for our community began.

Almost two weeks after the event, following the completion of the other memorial services, the Town of Mayerthorpe held a memorial service which over 2,000 people attended. Due to our past involvement in large community events, my wife and I were asked to organize and lead this service. The occasion provided an opportunity for community and the bereaved families to mourn their loss together.

Part of my training as emergency manager included how to deal with the media. This training was invaluable in helping us to avoid many of the common pitfalls. Throughout that time and up to the present, we have been able to maintain a good working relationship with the media.

What does a church do in a time of crisis in their community? I believe the answer to this question comes only by considering what the church has done for its community prior to a crisis event. How involved are the church and its leadership in their community? What does the church have to offer to a community throughout the year apart from religious services?

One of the things Ruth and I have done since we moved to Mayerthorpe almost 20 years ago was to get involved in the everyday life of the community. Some of that was in the political arena, running for town council or school board, and we either started or strongly supported such groups as Victim Services and the interagency meetings. I also sit on a number of other community boards and committees.

In order for the community to look to the church for help, the church needs to be involved in the community. We would not have had support and confidence from our community if we had not developed a track record with them over the years. The community knew they could count on us to be there to help them, during both good times and bad. They also knew we were able to organize large events and had the contacts to do so. When crisis hit our community, people started calling us, asking how they could assist and looking for guidance during this difficult time.

Five years later, we are still facilitating healing from this crisis by conducting the spiritual portion of the fifth anniversary candlelight service, and through my involvement in the Fallen Four Memorial Society. We have learned that people are not as interested in our theology as they are in the Jesus we portray through our lives and actions.
REV. RUTH AND REV. ARNOLD LOTHOLZ—Mayerthorpe Pentecostal Assembly, Mayerthorpe, AB
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