St. Stephen’s first service after the shootout: “They made sure everyone was welcome at their table; it cost them their lives

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The congregation at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, just three days after three members were shot and killed during a church dinner in the parish hall, returned to worship Sunday morning with a message of love.

“We come to mourn at the foot of the cross,” said the Reverend John Burress, the rector of Stephen’s, who was traveling in Greece at the time of the shooting but returned home on Friday evening and was preaching services this morning. . “It looks a lot like Holy Saturday.”

He compared the doom supper in church on Thursday night to the Last Supper, when Jesus included Judas Iscariot.

“It was a simple meal of camaraderie and love,” Burruss said. “He even invited his friend who would betray him. He loved Judas so much it cost him his life.

The deceased members of St. Stephen’s Church were following Jesus’ teaching and example when they invited their killer to dine with them.

“They made sure everyone was welcome at their table,” Burruss said. “It cost them their lives.”

The followers of Jesus experienced the same feeling, he said. “Their friend was taken away,” Burruss said. “It was really dark. It’s the heart of the Christian faith.

The church mourns the death of members Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham; and Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover. Robert Findlay Smith, 70, has been charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting.

Rainey had noticed Smith sitting alone in the church hall and invited him to sit at their table. Smith refused, then pulled out a gun and started shooting.

“How do we respond? said Burruss. “We reach out in love to a hurting world.”

Here’s full coverage of the St. Stephen’s Church shooting

He announced that the funerals of the deceased will be held Wednesday and Thursday: for Rainey at 11 a.m. Wednesday, for Yeager at 3 p.m. Wednesday; and for books at 11 a.m. Thursday.

“We’re in this together; we’ll get through this together,” Burruss said at the end of the 8 a.m. service. The church also held regular Sunday school classes and a worship service at 10:15 a.m.

Burruss said counselors would be in church all day to help people talk about their grief.

Bishop Glenda Curry, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and a former member of St. Stephen’s before becoming a priest, said it was important for the church to get back to normal. Curry attended services this morning. She said it was the first case of a fatal shooting at an Episcopal church. “It’s not something we wanted to be known for,” she said.

Worshipers gather at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills for the 8 a.m. service on Sunday, June 19, 2022, the first service after three members were shot and killed during a church dinner in the hall parish on June 16, 2022. (Photo by Greg Garrison/AL.com)

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

The Reverend John Burress, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, said in his first sermon since the fatal shooting of three church members that they were showing the love of Jesus. (Photo by Greg Garrison/AL.com)

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