Oxford-area church leaders reflect on tragedy, share message of hope one year later

'Our community is grieving who we were a year and a day ago which we're no longer.'
Oxford strong church sign
Posted at 4:36 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 17:54:59-05

OXFORD, Mich. (WXYZ) — One year ago on Wednesday, churches in and around Oxford were some of the first safe spaces for many students and parents in the wake of the shooting at Oxford High School.

"The emotion was very evident. You could see in the look in the eyes, the shock, the fear, the hurt that was going on," said Father Jim Kean of St. Joseph Catholic Church in nearby Lake Orion.

Kean says the night of the shooting, St. Joseph already had plans to hold evening mass. He says when they received word of the tragedy, they made a public announcement that students and parents could use the church as a meeting place for support and prayer.

"Many people in the community, not just ourselves, you waited until you heard from loved ones, the kids that were in the school that they were okay. That moment between hearing the sirens, hearing what happened and hearing that your child is okay is just an incredible time of worry," said Kean. "We started to focus on 'Look we’re going to need to do something.' People are going to be hurting on a large scale."

Kean says hundreds of students and parens filled the sanctuary, many seeing each other again for the first time since the shooting earlier that afternoon.

Kean says in the months since the shooting, his church has helped in any way they could to facilitate the healing process. He says at one point they hosted an event with a Columbine survivor to offer words of encouragement to Oxford community members. On the one year anniversary of the tragedy, the church bell at St. Joseph began to toll in remembrance of the four lives lost and trauma inflicted on survivors. The church also held mass Wednesday morning celebrating the lives of the students who died.

Kean says he and other faith leaders have spent the last year working together to be a collective support system for the Oxford Community.

"Our community is grieving who we were a year and a day ago which we're no longer," said Pastor Jesse Holt of Lakepoint Community Church in Oxford.

Holt says following the shooting, he and his pastoral staff made more than 30 calls to the families of Oxford High School students who are members of the congregation. Holt says he also decided to open up the doors to his church for grieving and shellshocked families. He says the night of the shooting around 1,200 people from 10 different churches attended the service.

Lakepoint was later the sight of the funeral of one of the fours students killed in the shooting.

Holt says faith leaders across the area have been in frequent communication as they focus on spreading messages of hope.

"It’s (faith leaders) job, together to get them, our community, to focus I think ultimately on hope because once a person is hopeless you lose the will to fight, you lose the will to move forward, you lose the will to heal," said Holt.

As the healing journey continues for the foreseeable future, faith leaders are encouraging community members to lean on each other.

"This will be with them for the rest of their lives and I think it’s important that we recognize that but then follow that message with the idea that you will carry on," said Fr. Kean.

The faith leaders also say they want to remind community members to give themselves grace because healing is not a linear journey.

"It's going to take time and there cannot be a time limit. I think it's unfair and unwise to tell people we need to move on because a part of moving on is moving through the grief," said Pastor Holt. " I think like any loss of anyone you love, you never get over it. You get used to it. You get used to living with it and I think we as a community have to get used to living with this great loss."