An Open Letter to Holy Communion's College Students

Dear Friends,

By this time, you will have learned about the tragic death of Jackson Roberts, one of our own, in a motorcycle accident near Furman University earlier this weekend. Jackson was a strong young man, an able student, and a person of great character. The world is less for not having him in it.

A few of you have asked me to help you make sense of all this. (Many of your parents have asked the same.) I can’t. No one can. There is no sense in why this happened; there is no explanation. All that I can offer are a few reflections from someone who has been with other people as they walked the unimaginable road of losing someone who was close to them, especially for the first time:

First, the world that God designed did not have death in it, and it certainly did not include death for people standing on the threshold of their adult lives. Accidents are accidents. They are not acts of God, and they are not part of God’s plan; they just happen. Every time we step out of our front door, we expose ourselves to risk. Most times, things work out fine. More often than we want to believe, they don’t. We do not look for God in why accidents happen. Instead, we look for God in the way that he loves us, cares for us, and blesses us after an accident happens.

Second, prayer is a powerful thing. The Bible tells us that the Archangel Raphael carries our prayers to the throne room of God. Our prayers ring on the ears of God, they offer consolation to those for whom we pray, and they transform the heart of the one who prays. Prayer is power in the midst of powerlessness. Prayer is something we can do when there is nothing that can be done.

Third, we all need to stay connected with a community of faith. When I arrived at Jackson’s house on Saturday morning, the driveway was filled with friends scraping ice and the kitchen was filled with people bringing food; many were from church. In death, Jesus promises us that he will prepare a place for us in his father’s own house. In life, he promises us that we will never have to be alone. Many young people take a break from their church experience during their college years, and then come back to it when they are ready to settle down or establish their families. I encourage you to chart another course. By stitching yourselves into a community of faith when times are good, you make an investment in having a community to support you when times are bad. There are many ways that you can stay in touch with Holy Communion over distance: Come to services when you’re in town, keep in touch with your church friends (especially your clergy and your youth minister!), check out our active Facebook page, receive our weekly E-mail or monthly mailing, and sign-up for our Wednesday morning “robocall.” I would also be glad to help you find a great parish church in the community where you are currently living.

Fourth, be gentle with yourselves in the days and weeks ahead, and get help when you need it. Priests, counselors, and psychologists are all trained to talk with people at times like these, and it is our privilege to do so. You do not need to be alone in your grief.  Feelings are facts; they are what they are, and we need to let them come. Also, please know that laughter and tears are very close in the spectrum of emotion, and that one often gives way to the other. Let that happen, and count the laughter as a blessing.

Fifth, for many of you, this is your first experience with tragic loss. The adults in your life all remember their first experiences with tragedy, just as you will always remember this. Experience does not make you any better at handling tragedy, it just gives you more confidence in knowing that God will continue to be faithful to us even in sorrow this deep. Ask the adults in your life how they are experiencing Jackson’s loss, and tell them how you feel; it will be a rich conversation.

I have gone on longer now than I intended, perhaps in the hope that using a great volume of words will help me find the right ones. It didn’t. The words do not exist that will help you make sense of this. What does exist is a loving God who has blessed us with each other in the midst of great loss. Where is God in all of this? I see him in you, and I hope that you can find a bit of his grace in the words I have written above.

I will let you know when Jackson’s funeral will be held as soon as I know. I hope that many of you will be able to come home for it, and I look forward to seeing you. Perhaps we can find a time to be together as a group when you are home. Hester, Benjamin, Randy, and I all love you all very much. Call us anytime.

Yours in faith,

The Reverend Alexander H. Webb II
Rector, Church of the Holy Communion
Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at 10:33 AM
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1/16/2018 at 12:12 PM by Linda C.

Thank you for this, Sandy. It is truly in being together that we see God in the midst of us at times like this. No one has the perfect words, but everyone has a hug to give or a few minutes to sit silently with someone in sympathy and love.

1/16/2018 at 03:32 PM by Andrea Watt, VP Blue Star Mothers of the Upstate

Sandy, The Furman Lacrosse team has been a huge supporter of the Blue Star Mothers of the Upstate. We are so very sorry for the tragic loss of this precious young life. We would very much like to reach out to his family by way of flowers and a note of condolences. Could you please contact me at ? Thank you Andrea Watt

1/16/2018 at 04:28 PM by Carolyn Eaves

Thanks for sharing this letter, it opened my eyes and heart on this cold day. Prayers and peace on this day. Blessings and God lLove!

1/16/2018 at 05:24 PM by Kathleen Johnston

Thank you for your message. We knew Jackson from St.George ‘s and are so saddened by his death. Your words help even the people old enough to be Jackson’s grandparents.

1/16/2018 at 06:35 PM by Mary Frances Rozak

What a blessing you are. Your words are wise and powerful. I will pray for your church community and the family of this beautiful young man.

1/16/2018 at 09:47 PM by Lee Duncan

Thank you, Sandy, for a most helpful letter. I know your words will provide comfort for so many. Beautifully stated.

1/17/2018 at 01:09 PM by Bishop Raymond Decelles Sawyer

In nearly a half century of ministry, as deacon, priest and bishop, I have witnessed such a tragedy....the accidental death of a young adolescent person. The inconsolable grief of the parents who must bury their child is more poignant after the funeral services, and all friends and relations have returned to their own lives. I would like to associate myself with the Rector’s compassionate and deeply moving remarks addressed to the family, and the other college students in the parish. To that end, I will celebrate the Eucharist with these intentions in mind. Requiescat in pace, Amen. +Raymond, Ecuador Retired

1/17/2018 at 10:06 PM by Grace keller McLaren

I lost my son, 21 weeks, 2 days ago. On the evening I learned of his untimely death, I was in Florida. I walked out in the quiet of our balcony and took a picture of the sunset. My husband asked me what I was doing. I responded simply: I am taking a picture of what I pray I will always know to be true: God's unchanging magnificent love present in the beauty of that sunset over the ocean. As we drove through the night to Chattanooga, I made many further declarations: God's love for me and for my son and my family has not changed. He is constant. Yes! My world changed drastically, but God did not! My son was not alone when he died; God was with Ryan and received him into God's magnificent home. I adore my God who received my son into his eternal home. I am blessed to learn more of what I was taught as a child in John 3:16 - For God so loved your son, my son, the world that He gave His only begotten son. That whomever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. I get to know the blessing of eternal life by knowing without a shadow of a doubt that my son is in Heaven. I awaken every morning and praise God for the 26 years, 5 months, 12 days of Ryan's life in mine and pray that I can fully receive the gift of his death to lead others to knowing the Lord as their Savior. I cannot ask "Why" we lost our sons as I cannot be God. I can ache in pain over loss, but I will always end my day thanking God for the life I had and for the eternal life my son and your son has. Yes, I carry this pain over loss. But, I also know the Holy Spirit will hover over all of us who mourn. Pray God will lead your through the darkness of death to the light of His glory as they go hand and glove together. I pray for all the family to be light in a dark, dark time and to show all Jackson's friends to know to turn to God and to lean on Him daily.

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