Remembering Nickel Mines

Email Devotion Pentecost 20

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

When I woke up on Saturday morning I found these words on the front paper of the morning paper, penned by staff writer Ad Crable.

Hours after her husband methodically tied up and shot 10 schoolgirls in the West Nickel Mines one-room schoolhouse, a numb Marie Roberts was grieving in her parents’ nearby home. Then she looked out the kitchen window to see a group of Amish men somberly walking into the yard.  The sight initially panicked her.  “I thought, ‘What could I possibly say that could mean something in light of all they faced today?’ There is nothing I have to give them,” she recalled in an interview with LNP. “My mind was racing with what questions they may have, what demands might they ask, and rightly so.”  But the men, who included family members of the girls shot that morning and the local bishop, did not come seeking answers.  Rather, the words they carried for the stunned wife would set in motion an extraordinary journey of faith and forgiveness.  But on the day of the worst mass killings in Lancaster County in recent times, Roberts could not face what she suspected was anger seething in the men outside the window.  Her father, Ken Welk, told her to stay inside. He went out to face the visitors.  She couldn’t hear what was said, but what she could see stunned her. “I saw the way they put their hands on his shoulder. I saw the tears that flowed down everyone’s faces and the way they embraced before they left.  “Dad came back in, collected himself, and said, ‘Marie, they came because they were concerned about you. They are concerned about your children. They wanted you to know they had forgiven Charles, and they were extending grace and compassion to your family.’”

As our county observes the ten year anniversary of the Nickel Mines tragedy, the almost unbelievable stories of forgiveness from members of the Amish community continue to humble most of us who see forgiveness as a core value of our Christian faith.  In my experience, much of the forgiveness that is granted by Christians is more about the forgiver than anything else.  Our sense of being victimized invites us to elevate our own acts of forgiveness to the level of martyrdom.  The Amish community sees forgiveness differently.  Amish parents who lost children in the shooting said that forgiveness is a necessary part of their faith.  It is an obligation that arises from God’s forgiveness of God’s children.  Forgiving was not a choice – it was a necessity.

As you pray and reflect this week, consider this calling to forgiveness in your life.  Not just the moments of easy or reciprocal forgiveness.  Not those that give you a sense of pride.  Consider those impossible calls to forgive … places where forgiveness appears to be unforgivable.  You may not have the strength or courage.  I’m not sure I do.  But the memory of the lives of five innocent girls and their families that live on, invites … challenges … demands … that we try.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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