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Virginia Tech Wesley Foundation offers safety, solace

The Wesley Foundation Center next to the Virginia Tech campus opened its doors to students as a safe haven in the wake of the April 16 shooting that left 33 people dead. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wesley Foundation.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

April 17, 2007


With more than 25,000 full-time students, Virginia Tech is nestled in southwestern Virginia in Blacksburg. A UMNS file photo by Maile Bradfield.

The Wesley Foundation of Virginia Tech became a safe haven for students immediately after a deadly shooting spree -- and a spiritual hub for grief and prayer as the campus community began to come to grips with the tragedy.

"It has been helpful to come here and talk about this together. It is starting to set in how real this is," said Amanda Rader, a senior civil engineering major.

Rader, a member of Mt. Olive United Methodist Church in nearby Newport, Va., lost a friend in the April 16 shooting. She spoke with United Methodist News Service on April 17 from the campus ministry's offices, adjacent to the school's campus.

"I went to high school with one of the students who was killed and actually had a class with him this semester," she said, softly crying.

Thirty-three people were dead and 15 wounded in the wake of the massacre that ended when the lone gunman turned his gun on himself.

The Rev. Glenn Tyndall, United Methodist campus minister, opened the doors to the Wesley Foundation Center immediately after the shootings so students would have a "warm, comfortable, safe" place. They shared a prayer service, and about a dozen spent the night in the building, Tyndall said.

"It is becoming more personal with every hour," said Tyndall, as the names of the dead were being released on April 17.

None of the students who attend the Wesley Foundation were hurt, but a handful lost close friends.

"It is becoming more personal with every hour."
- The Rev. Glenn Tyndall, United Methodist campus minister

"That not only affects those individual students but affects those of us who are their friends and co-workers because it personalizes it for all of us," he said.

Prayers, encouragement and offers of help were arriving from across the United States to the Wesley Foundation offices. Tyndall said he had heard from other campus ministers "saying they were praying for our campus and having services for us."

"People all over the nation and world are thinking about you," wrote W. David Miller, president of the Wesley Fellowship at Birmingham-Southern College, in a message to the Blacksburg Wesley group.

"We are all crying with you," wrote Newell and Nita Randall, Virginia Tech alumni from the Class of 1979.

The shooting came as Wesley Foundation students and staff planned for their annual Wesley Weekend on April 21-22, inviting all Wesley students, parents, alumni and friends to celebrate the work of the campus ministry in the community.

A worship service previously planned for April 22 to celebrate Virginia Tech Student Day will now take on a different tone, according to Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference, who plans to attend the service at Blacksburg United Methodist Church, three blocks from the campus.

Kammerer said United Methodists across the connection were grieving with the Virginia Tech community.

"Not only do we grieve the loss of life, we grieve for the many problems in our society that create people with no hope and no sense of the future who commit violent acts," said Kammerer. She spoke to United Methodist News Service while en route to Blacksburg to attend an April 17 community memorial service.

The bishop asked for prayers for those in ministry on the Virginia Tech campus, including Tyndall. "They are all tired, but energized by the work before them. And they are thankful for the support and prayers they are receiving."

Tyndall said students and campus staff need prayers more than anything else right now.

Rader said "it is going to be tough to come back from this," but that fellowship and community are more important than ever for herself and her fellow students.

"We need the support of each other and ... just somebody to lean on everyday," she said.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio: The Rev. Glenn Tyndall

"The God I worship is crying along with us."

"Most important thing is assurance people are praying for us."

"Girl was freshman ... just beginning her education."

Audio: Amanda Rader

"I went to high school with one of the students killed."

"It is starting to set in how real this really is."

"Need someone to lean on everyday."

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