by Jim Boyle
Zimmerman churches banded together this past Saturday for a candlelight vigil to pray for family, friends and the community in the wake of the tragic deaths of Stephanie, Nolan and Josie Shields.
This was the decision of the church community after a couple of neighbors came forward saying they would like to do something. What started out as a plan to meet outside the Shields home, along a memorial that has been pieced together by neighbors and other members of the community grew into the service at Christ Our Light Catholic Church in Zimmerman.
Pastors and church members from Christ Our Light in Zimmerman and Princeton as well as Zimmerman Free Church, Zimmerman Community Church and St. John Lutheran Church joined in lighting candles, singing songs and offering peace to one another. There were also students and staff from Zimmerman Elementary School.
“We recognized whenever there’s a sad thing that happens in any part of our community, it affects us all including those who are not church members,” the Rev. Kevin Anderson of Christ Our Light said. “We gather this night to remember, to support, to honor, to pray, to reach out to you for healing and to one another with compassion and hope.”
About 200 people that came to the vigil then lit candles.
Zimmerman Elementary School Principal Sue Johnston and several teachers were among those to read prayers. Among the many prayers offered that night, here are a few:
•We pray for Stephanie, Josie and Nolan. May they rest in the embrace of God who heals, forgives and understands.
•For Mark Shields and the family, for friends and neighbors: May the God of light and compassion lead us all to support one another through these days of grief and loss.
•For children here and everywhere: May they grow up surrounded by knowledge and be protected and loved.
•For all who are struggling with mental and physical hardships: May the light of God’s love be stronger than any darkness they may have.
After more singing, the crowd at the vigil was asked to turn toward Zimmerman Elementary School, to raise their hands and pray for a beacon of light and hope.
“For all, especially those closest to Josie and Nolan, … offer hugs, hope and prayers,” Anderson prayed. “Reflect upon their presence, remember all the goodness they have given and be with the students, staff and faculty as they continue to support and educate.”
Then participants were asked to face the back of the church and to raise their hands toward the Shields’ neighborhood. Anderson asked for the Lord’s blessings upon the neighborhood and for his light to be stronger than any darkness.
After the candles were blown out and the sanctuary lights were turned back on, people were asked to turn to one another and offer each other a sign of peace. People were encouraged to leave their seat and most did just that.
The Rev. Tom Koelln of St. John Lutheran Church in Zimmerman offered a closing prayer.
“We gather here to be with each other and to be a symbol of your presence with us during this very dark time in our community,” he prayed. “Shine your light upon us that we might recognize that you are with us. Death will not have the final words on our lives.
“We pray that you would support us and give us strength in this time of grief and mourning, remembering.”
Holly Thompson, a member of the Elk River Area School Board as well as a member of the Zimmerman community and a parent of a child who is a classmate of one of the Shields’ kids said Monday at a public meeting the vigil made her proud to be a member of the community.
“It was a great opportunity for children to find some closure and some peace in an appropriate way that was healthy for children to experience and be surrounded by the community,” Thompson said.