At long last, the deadliest year in Topeka’s history is nearing an end.
By early December, the capital city had seen a record 29 homicides.
More than a number or statistic, each victim was a person who was loved and cherished by family members and friends.
For those directly affected by the killings, the holidays this year won’t be the same.
Painful. Empty. Hollow.
But not the same.
Add to that other people who are grieving the loss of relatives and friends whose lives were lost in suicide or through other traumatic incidents this year, and the holidays become a time to be dreaded rather than anticipated.
Recognizing the pain and grief many people in Topeka are experiencing this year, New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 2801 S.E. Indiana Ave., is offering a special service titled “Hope for the Holidays” at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16.
The service is geared for people who have had their lives interrupted by the tragic and sudden deaths of their loved ones, though anyone experiencing loss is welcome to attend.
“What we want to do is reach out to those in the community who have experienced traumatic loss by suicide or murder, and also those who have experienced loss through the death of a loved one or family member or friend,” said the Rev. Delmar White, New Mount Zion’s pastor. “We know that the holidays are stressful enough already. For some, they are made more difficult because they are coupled with dealing with the losses of loved ones.
“So we’re trying to provide a space for people to be comfortable, to feel safe, to be able to express what they’re going through.”
White said trained grief counselors will be present at Saturday night’s service to meet with attendees.
Members of the Mothers of Murdered Sons — or MOMS — group also will be in attendance.
“We just wanted to minister to people and give them an opportunity to know there are some resources and, as the moniker says, ‘hope for the holidays,’” White said. “We want to give them some tools to be able to navigate through Christmas and going into the new year. It’s a tough place — a tough place for people to be.”
White said people not directly affected by the sudden and traumatic death of loved ones, but who would like to show their support for others in the community who have experienced such losses, are welcome to attend.
White said Lisa Davis, the community outreach coordinator at New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, “came up with the idea” for the service.
“She thought this would be a great way for the church to reach out to the community without it being overly religious, but providing those resources and a safe place for families to come together and be supported,” White said. “Certainly in Christ we’re offered that hope and comfort, and so we hang onto that as a church.”
The service, White said, will “not try to proselytize anyone, but really show them Christ and his compassion as we provide this program and this safe space.”
White will draw upon his work as a chaplain with Midland Care — and his prior work as a grief and loss counselor — as he presents an inspirational message. The Parker Singers will furnish music.
The over-arching message of the service is that “here’s a safe place, here’s a faith community reaching out to say we care for you, we want to support you and we love you,” White said.
“We may not have all the answers,” he said, “but more than anything, we just want to be a presence in their lives and let them know they’re not alone.”
Contact Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/.