A community comes together after the recent shooting in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
It started with a text message. The buzzing of my phone woke me up and I lay there for a few minutes enjoying the warm sun coming through my window. The Maritimes had been experiencing something of a heat wave but on this glorious morning everything seemed perfect. That soon changed.
The message my friend shared with me was the stunning news everyone in the Maritimes had woken up to. A shooting in Fredericton, New Brunswick had left four people dead. It was 8:30 a.m. and the sky was suddenly darkened by rain clouds that would hover over the city for the rest of the day.
By 10:30 a.m. we knew two of the people killed were police officers. We would later learn that the two others were a new couple who, like me, were planning a family weekend away. That morning, as I drove from Fredericton towards the coast, I kept hearing updates on the tragedy on the radio, and my heart slowly broke into pieces.
I could not help but feel that I was heading in the wrong direction. I had to do something—but what? When my family arrived in St. Andrews, I posted a prayer on my church’s Facebook page, asked friends and family to pray. I tried to enjoy watching my young daughter playing in the sand, but I couldn’t forget the tragedy. As I perused one story on the CBC website I was drawn to a comment, which said something to the effect of, “Why don’t we all just call it what it is… with all those Syrian refugees…This is terrorism.”
My family moved to Fredericton last December and my vivacious and outgoing six-year-old daughter initially had trouble making friends. But she came home one day waving a photo and beaming with a smile I had not seen in quite some time. A little boy had come up to her that day, told her he loved her, and insisted the teacher take a photo of him and his best friend. Like us, his family were new to Fredericton. Unlike us, his family had fled war in Syria.
That memory came back to me on the heels of the horrific online comment about terrorism. Four people dead and the first thought was to blame refugees that had come in large numbers to make Fredericton their home. In that moment, I knew what I needed to do. Standing on the beach watching the tide go out I started making phone calls. Within hours I had contacted Rabbi Yosef Goldman of Sgoolai Israel Synagogue in Fredericton, Chief Alan Polchie Jr. of St. Mary’s Wolastoqiyik Indigenous Community and Dr. Abdelhaq Hamza, who represents the Fredericton Islamic Association. Everyone was willing to spread the word and meet the following night for a prayer vigil on the steps of Fredericton’s city hall.
Our city was experiencing watershed moment. We could be united or broken apart. It was up to us as faith leaders to show that we stand united. This was a time for us to gather the community together and do what we do best: pray. And pray is exactly what we did.
At the vigil, we offered prayers from our own tradition and each of us reminded the crowd that love would get us through this. A group of Indigenous drummers called The Sisters of the Drum had joined us. As we spoke, I saw many people in the crowd nodding in agreement. I could not tell you the religious affiliation of any of the hundred or so people listening to us that night. What I could see, however, was the deep belief each of them had that love and not hate was what we needed.
The Spirit was so evident that night. The Spirit was with each speaker and she was lifted up with each drumbeat. When I got up to speak, I hoped that what I had to say would be enough. That it would reach people. I trusted in the Spirit, I spoke of the time that Jesus had tarried too long, and his friend Lazarus was dead. I spoke of the questions asked by Mary and Martha and the crowd: Where were you?
These terrible, horrific crimes are the kinds of things that lead us to question God; and so I shared my belief that it is in questioning that we find God. We believe in a God that has created and is creating. We are works in progress. We will get better if we let love win. As I looked out at the crowd that evening I could feel my broken and bleeding heart slowly being knitted back together by a group of strangers who refused to hate in a time of fear.
After hearing us speak, The Sisters of the Drum felt called to offer one more song. It was called the Humble Song and it broke though all my defenses. The tears I had held at bay came rushing out. I walked away from the crowd and wept. I wept for all the people I could not help. For all the words I had not been able to say. For the fact that I could not fix this.
Yosef’s wife had seen my tears and wanted to let me know I would not be alone in my grief. She enveloped me in the warmest, kindest, most mothering hug. Embraced in that hug, I looked at the crowd and saw strangers comforting each other. Clergy friends were offering pastoral care to people they likely would never see again. People were grieving together. Loving together. Healing together.
What I said that day was not enough. But the compassion shared among strangers was enough. Fredericton has enough love to go around and this watershed moment in our history has led to unity, healing—and love. I am deeply grateful.
—Rev. Deborah Ambridge Fisher is the minister at Forest Hill United in Fredericton, New Brunswick.