By Rick Wolcott*
“Light is stronger than darkness and love is stronger than that.”
Rev. Howard Pippin, Jr. of Aldersgate United Methodist Church (North Coast District) in Warrensville Heights shared that thought following a triple-fatal shooting that occurred across the street from the church on Feb. 5.
The owner of Chalk Linez barbershop and two of his friends were shot and killed inside the business. Three others inside the shop were also shot and had to be hospitalized.
“The whole experience was very emotional for all of us,” Pippin said. “My wife grew up right down the street from the shop and one of our new members was working at a shop in the same plaza when the shooting occurred.”
No arrests have been made and the shooting remains under investigation.
“Warrensville Heights has a special place in my heart after seven year of being appointed to this church and to this community,” Pippin said. “I knew I had to do something so I called the mayor and offered my support to him and to the families. I told him he could use Aldersgate UMC for any gatherings.”
Pippin had planned to preach Sunday on love but felt he needed to do more. Before the start of worship he received a text from Stanley Miller. The former head of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP told Pippin that following a shooting in his own neighborhood parishioners at his church had ended a service by walking to the site of the shooting.
“I said, ‘that’s it – we’ll walk to the barbershop, end the service there, pray, sing a song and leave.’” Pippin said. “I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit through it all.”
“Standing outside the barber shop where the shooting occurred was a gentle witness that love casts out fear,” said Bishop John Hopkins, who attended the service and offered prayer at the vigil.
Family members of one of the victims, arriving at the parking lot for their own time of reflection, told Pippin they were grateful to find members of the church praying there.
“All but a handful of the people came across the street. Without even realizing it I wept. I wept for the families. I wept for the community. I wept because we were the church in one of its truest forms – the body of Christ gathered for the sake of others,” Pippin shared.
“My heart was moved to join this congregation as members walked across the street and prayed at the very spot where violence erupted this past week,” Hopkins said. “Our prayers invoked the power of the Holy Spirit and we prayed that God’s love would bring healing and hope.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.