Blog Post by Rev. Dr. Chris Keating
Pastor of Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian & St. Louis County Police Chaplain
In case you missed it, your church was packed on Tuesday. Every seat was taken—even the front pews that are only used during weddings. Even your uncle, who never attends, joined the countless host streaming through the sanctuary doors.
Don’t believe me? Double-check the calendar. Tuesday, of course, was all Saint’s Day, a day to recall our communion with the saints of all ages who have fought the good fight, finished their races, and kept the faith. And while it is indeed easier to get Presbyterians to schedule root canals than to get them to church on a weekday, our sanctuaries were overflowing, nonetheless.
As our preschoolers gathered for Chapel Time Tuesday, I looked around and spotted some of the saints who had come with them. Dee, who lost her battle to ALS in July, took her seat mid-sanctuary, just as she always did. Jim, the anchor of our tenor section, grinned as he sat down in the choir. John tinkered with the light bulbs a bit. In came Larry Jackman and Howard Gleason, both fine pastoral colleagues who worshipped at Woodlawn, entered as the prelude was ending. There were so many others: family, friends, mentors, even strangers whom we never met in life.
Since Woodlawn Chapel was founded in 1990, the congregation had little first-hand experience with death and dying when I was called as pastor in 1999. The inevitabilities of time have changed that, and by now our hearts have been pierced by the losses of friends and siblings. Yet our relationship with them continues.
The saints teach us lessons about life and remind us of our sacred connections to each other. As the Westminster Confession reminds us, our lives are blessed by the communion of the gifts and graces of all of God’s saints.
Think of the connections we share with the young saints of Saint Louis who have lost their lives to gun violence in 2022. Consider what our responsibility is to the survivors of those tragedies. The children shot on the streets of St. Louis could have been our children and grandchildren. The teacher who died defending her students at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis could have been our teacher, sister, aunt, or friend. The young student who died could have been one of the generations of students who have walked through the doors of that storied school. Those jumping out of the windows took a leap of hope that day that being outside of the school was a better option.
There are connections, too, with the police officers and first responders who were summoned to the school, and who stand ready for the next encounter. As a police chaplain, I see the weariness and resolve mixed in the eyes of young officers who will be called upon the next time there is a shooting.
Do not dishonor the memories of those youngest saints by suggesting all we can do is offer thoughts and prayers. We have settled for the hard truth that for some kids it is easier to purchase an assault weapon than it is to get an appointment to see a psychiatrist. We are so inured by the violence that the sight of little coffins does not cause us to cry.
I do not pretend to have answers. But I know that on this All Saints Day, my heart will be broken by the memories of those who have died even as it is filled with the blessings of our eternal communion.
Rev. Dr. Chris Keating
Pastor of Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian
& St. Louis County Police Chaplain