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Orlando: 'we are not people who grieve without hope'

Pastor Andy Searles, who works for Church Together in Orlando and is chaplain at the city's football club, shares with Inspire how the city is responding to the weekend's tragic terror attack ...

Following a gathering to pray for the grieving city of Orlando, Pastor Andy Searles – who works at Church Together and is chaplain at Orlando City Soccer – gave us some insight into how the community and the churches are responding to the tragic shooting that left at least 50 people dead.

Inspire: How have the churches in Orlando responded to the tragedy?

AS: The news started to unfold when many of us were with our congregations in worship as news alerts came in. We prayed, we cried, we were in disbelief. Initially the church in Orlando responded with sadness, with prayer, with confusion ... but emerging from that we are seeking to play our part in bringing and being unity within our city.

It is our role to remind through our loving care that we are not people who grieve without hope. We are starting to see some of the first fruits of that hope starting to emerge. Numerous prayer vigils are coming together, opportunities to serve, support and honour and in the midst of great pain we are seeing some profound things come together.

We are seeing the promise of Genesis 50, where God says, “What the enemy intended for evil, God intended for good” start to be fulfilled among us.

Is this being seen as a specific targeting of the LGBT community? A random terror attack that happened to choose a gay club as an ‘easy target’?

Orlando has been and is a very LGBT-friendly city and many are seeing this as an attack on that community. Our banners, billboards and graphics are suggesting that many see this as an attack on the LGBT community. However, there is still much confusion. Was this religiously motivated? Was it an attack on our culture? Our lifestyle? There are many questions still to be answered. Grief and shock is the prominent emotion. The narrative around this is changing constantly.

Do you have any prayer pointers for Christians and churches in the UK as the local community struggles to come to terms with what has happened?

Pray for healing. Pray that we can love well across the different political, racial, sexuality and religious lines. Pray that Godly love will triumph over evil. Pray that God would do more than we could hope for or imagine. Pray that this strengths the identity of our city, not defines it.

For those who don’t know Orlando at all, what is the church landscape like? Do the churches work together anyway, or do you think one effect of the tragedy might be to bring churches closer together?

Yes, there have been many churches working together for a number of years on different levels and on different projects. It is my prayer that this will bring our churches together. It needs to. We are able to love and serve a broken world more when we are together.

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