After Boston Marathon bombing: Faith in Watertown

A pastor at a suburban church in Watertown, Mass., reflects on the Boston Marathon bombing, the pursuit of a terrorist suspect to her town, and how her congregation lived through a nightmare to emerge 'filled with a mighty spirit … a holy one.'

Julio Cortez/AP
People gather on a field during a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing April 20 in Watertown, Mass. Suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured in Watertown after a firefight with police.

My church is directly across the street from the Watertown, Mass., police department. Some might believe that small churches in suburban metro areas are antediluvian oddities in a world that has passed them by … theologically, economically, numerically, and in their Christian witness. But I humbly invite you to reflect on our small-church ministry in Watertown during the Boston Marathon terrorist attack and its aftermath.

Welcome to our world. Welcome to Watertown.

Each year we welcome friends, family, and friends of friends to our community during Boston Marathon week. We have our own "runners" who have been training along Route 20 (Main Street) all summer, fall, and winter in preparation for this huge event. We are a Boston suburb, a vibrant community of multi-ethnic, religiously diverse people from all walks of life.

Our town seal depicts an historic initial meeting between a colonist and a Native American, where they exchanged fish and bread instead of violence birthed out of fear of someone different. We are proud that only one day after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in Boston in 1776, a treaty was signed with the First Nations of Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy peoples. Not only was this the first treaty signed by our new country, historians suggest that this treaty was the only one kept and honored. We celebrate "treaty day" each year in Watertown Square beside the Charles River.

We watched the Boston Marathon along with the rest of the world – we were just a little closer. Along with our neighbors, our children, and our house guests, we were all along the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton, Mass., to Boston’s finish line.

We held signs, cheered, took pictures, and gave out water and oranges. We were individual runners and part of teams that ran together. We were spectators, medical responders, and volunteers, helping to keep the raceway open for those competing in wheelchairs and running shoes.

Then, we stepped into a nightmare.

We watched in stunned disbelief and bewilderment as terrorists exploded two bombs at the finish line.

Three days later, on Thursday night near midnight, gunfire, explosions, and sirens awakened many Watertown residents in their homes. A murder had taken place at a convenience store many of us have visited; a car-jacking occurred on a road many of us use regularly.

We watched the news as a deadly chase of the two suspected terrorists came into Watertown. Law enforcement officers exchanged gunfire as bombs or grenades were thrown at police by the suspected terrorists.

Members of my congregation serve in many levels of law enforcement, in fire departments and as first responders, and for them, it was personal. For all of us who know and love them, who work beside them, who worship at church next to them, it was personal.

If we were able to sleep at all we were shocked awake by automated calls from our emergency notification network that urged us to “stay inside, lock doors, and close windows. Do not let anyone in unless it is the SWAT team.”

Some closed their blinds. Some prayed. Friday was a long day.

Thankfully, the wonderful cooperative nursery school in the downstairs portion of our church was on vacation, as it was a week of school vacation in Massachusetts. This meant that we did not have to worry about vulnerable children on site. As the pastor, that was my biggest relief. Our kids were as safe as they could be.

I am always comforted and emboldened by knowing that in death and in life, we belong to Christ Jesus. As one who has been blessed to be called to pastor Community Church of Watertown I am also confident that we will be able to walk through any valley, no matter how dark the shadows, no matter the danger, no matter how great our fear. Why?

We are people of faith who will not be held in bondage to a spirit of fear or hatred. No power or principality or terrorist scheme can defeat God. We are Easter people. We are a small church, but we are filled with a mighty spirit – a holy one.

We are gathering tonight for a church potluck dinner, and tomorrow we will be gathered for worship. We will be praying and crying. We will be singing and smiling. That’s what we do together on Main Street.

• The Rev. Roberta Barr is pastor of the Community Church of Watertown, Mass.

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