At church near municipal center, finding solace after the Virginia Beach mass shooting

The Rev. Beth Anderson, senior pastor at Courthouse Community United Methodist Church, prays with two journalists following an interview on Monday, June 3. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

COURTHOUSE — At lunchtime on Monday, June 3, dozens of people dressed in blue gathered at Courthouse Community United Methodist Church to remember the 12 people who died in the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

The church is just down Princess Anne Road from the sprawling government complex, so the Rev. Beth Anderson, senior pastor of the church, hosted prayer services at noon and 7 p.m. so city workers could attend on lunch breaks or after work. 

“We just wanted to be able to offer a space where people could come and know that they’re not alone, that God is with them, that we’re with them, that they’re loved,” said Anderson, who missed her daughter’s birthday party to be there for the community on Saturday, June 1. 

As attendees walked in, they were handed a bulletin detailing the afternoon’s procession as well as a pamphlet providing resources for coping with events like this tragic mass shooting. Varying shades of blue painted an ocean of support and love for those who passed through the doors. Nametags around the necks of volunteers read: “I am here to pray with you.”

As the service started, four singers filled the sanctuary with a song about hope and crying to God in times of desperation. 

“Be still with me and know that God is in our midst,” said the Rev. Tammy Estep, senior pastor of Haygood United Methodist Church, leading the tearful group in a moment of silence and prayer. 

“Nothing can separate us from God’s love,” Anderson said. “We will resist evil.” 

Twelve unlit candles sat on a table on the stage, one for each victim. The deep, long ring of a bell filled the room after each name was read and their tall, white candle lit. “As we remember them, we will shine with your light and their light,” Anderson said. 

As the service came to a close, people filed to the side of the room to write notes to be put throughout city buildings. Others held each other and prayed. 

“When tragedy hits, one of the hardest things for people to do is pray,” said the Rev. David Ryu, senior pastor of Charity United Methodist Church. “Our souls are numb, because we don’t understand why this would happen.” 

People hugged, talked, prayed and showed the bond the Virginia Beach community shares. Whispered prayers filled the room. 

“You don’t want to have to be good at this, you know,” Anderson said. “But I’ve just been really proud of our city and our police officers. They’re where I see the hope.”

The group held hands in a circle around the room and recited the benediction, paralleling the togetherness that the community has felt as this tragedy brings people closer. 

A message of support rests on a table following a Monday, June 2, service at Courthouse Community United Methodist Church. The church near the Virginia Beach Municipal Center held two prayer services that day, among the many services and vigils that have followed the mass shooting at Building 2 in the government center on Friday, May 31. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

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