KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 4, 2014) -- Two United Methodist congregations invited the community to join in prayer last night after a tragic accident involving two school buses and three fatalities.
Church Street United Methodist Church hosted about 200 people for a candlelight prayer vigil in its downtown parking lot on Wednesday night, while Piney Grove United Methodist Church gathered with about 20 people in east Knoxville.
Three passengers – two children and a teacher’s aide -- died on Tuesday, Dec. 2, when their school bus was struck by another school bus along Asheville Highway.
At Church Street last night, a cross section of the Knoxville community was comforted by prayer, encouraging words and music. Attending were residents of the east Knoxville community, including the mother of one of the victims, as well as Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre and County Mayor Tim Burchett.
The Rev. Andy Ferguson, senior pastor, welcomed participants and talked of how fleeting life on earth can be.
“Just yesterday they were our dear family members and our friends, and today we mourn them,” he said.
The Rev. Ashley Helton, associate minister, led a prayer reading. Rev. Chuck Morris, pastor at Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church, spoke on behalf of the east Knoxville community where the tragedy occurred.
Morris said the prayer vigil was a step for families and friends who lost loved ones as well as the grieving community. “One of the things we can do is gather in a parking lot on a chilly December night and encourage each other,” he said.
The Church Street adult choir sang the Christmas hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” before the youth band led worshipers in singing “It is Well With My Soul” and “Amazing Grace.”
Church Street youth director Jenny Darden said that “It is Well With My Soul” was written by Horatio Spafford as a source of comfort after his family perished in a shipwreck during the 1870s. Darden hoped the song would be similarly comforting to the families and community affected by the school bus accident. “Even in the midst of trauma and pain, we have the promise of Christ tonight.”
The event was organized by Church Street member Joey Tack, an on-air personality for radio station 104.5. “We knew we could be of some help to the community,” he said after the event.
Also attending the event was Knoxville District Superintendent Nathan Malone. He said afterward that tragedies such as the accident serve as reminders of how fragile and precious life is.
“So we come together and listen to this God, who says, ‘The Lord is with us,’” the Rev. Malone said. “And I very much believe one of the ways God is with us is through his people.”
Ferguson added after the service that he hoped the vigil would help the community remember the three victims: Zykia Burns, age 6; Seraya Glasper, 7; and Kimberly Riddle, 46.
“The community comes out and lays claim to these children, and they are not unknown, but they are children who have names and faces,” he said.
After the prayer service, Ukennia Arinze, the mother of crash victim Zykia Burns, spoke to the several members of the media who attended.
At Piney Grove United Methodist Church, located about 2 ½ miles from the accident site, the Rev. Larry Anderson led about 20 people in prayer. A few participants shared that relatives or friends were passengers on the school bus or knew the victims.
“I pray for comfort, for God to hold them,” Miranda Hughett prayed tearfully during the service, while her eight-year-old son, Austin, stood next to her.
Anderson said that he had been asked to stop and pray with many members of the community, everywhere he went, on the day of the accident.
“People are really shaken,” Anderson said before the service. “Like Job, they will ask, ‘Where is God in this?’ There is no easy answer. He is there and loving them through this, and he does that through his people.”
Annette Spence contributed to this report.
John Shearer is a United Methodist and a reporter for The Chattanoogan.