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As I sit down to write this article, I find myself at a loss for words. Originally, I had planned to focus my writing on stewardship and reminding everyone that this Sunday is our Pledge Sunday. That, of course, is vitally important to our life together, and I trust that each of you is already planning how you will participate. But the events and the emotions of this past weekend are weighing heavily on my heart, and I feel compelled to give them my full attention.

On Sunday morning, whether you were here at 508 Franklin Road or on the All-Church Retreat at Beersheba Springs, you heard the story of the Israelites’ exile as it is told in 2 Kings. If you were not able to be in worship on Sunday, we found ourselves in the biblical story at the moment when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took most of the Israelites captive. The Temple was destroyed and the city was ransacked. It was a time of devastation and grief.

We had planned well in advance to hear the story of the exile this Sunday, but we did not realize how painful that story would end up being for us as a congregation. As most of you know, one of our beloved church members, Mike Keeton, passed away suddenly while at the retreat. I cannot begin to put into words the shock and grief that we all feel in the wake of this tragedy. We decided to cancel all the plans we’d made for Saturday night and simply gather in the chapel at Beersheba for prayer. We just needed to be together and bring all that we were feeling into the presence of God and one another.

Then, as we gathered for worship on Sunday, we heard the story of the exile and silently reflected on our own experiences of God in the midst of loss. Each of us in worship was invited to ask ourselves the question, “Where is God when we are ‘in exile,’ when we find ourselves in places we did not expect or want to be?” Then we sang together the song “I Believe,” by Mark Miller, whose lyrics come from an inscription on a cellar wall in Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis: “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent.”

On Monday morning, I received an email from Elizabeth Cannady with this picture attached. Her son Connor, who is six, had drawn it during worship on the mountain. Wow. A word from God, through the hand of a child.

I cannot tell you how many ways I have seen God at work over the past few days in the body of Christ that is our congregation: people who were the courageous first responders when Mike became ill, people who drove his family to the hospital, people who met with the youth and cared for them, people who cared for the first responders in the hours afterwards, people who stepped up to make food for the family, people who have reached out to the staff and offered support. The list goes on and on. God is with us, my friends. Together we are a sign of hope and light—to one another and to the world—and I am deeply blessed to be part of the body of Christ that is Christ United Methodist Church.