Uvalde church offers property for child grief counseling center after school shooting

By Egan Millard
Posted Oct 10, 2022

This architectural rendering shows what the new branch of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas in Uvalde might look like. Image source: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal church in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two adults were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, is offering part of its property to be developed into a new grief counseling center for children.

An underutilized building on the campus of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church & School will become a permanent branch of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which has been using a room in the church as a temporary work space since the shooting. CBCST is a nonprofit that provides counseling and support groups to children and families that are grieving the death of a loved one.

The small, one-story building has been used by the congregation over the years as a distribution center for free donated clothes and household items, a youth group space and an art and music room for the school.

The Rev. Michael Marsh, rector of St. Philip’s, told Episcopal News Service that it became clear soon after the shooting that the children of Uvalde would need long-term treatment for the trauma they had experienced.

“A lot of students were there when it happened. Even if they weren’t in the classroom or in close proximity [to the shooting], they were affected – knowing what’s happened and going back to school. Some of them had friends that died or were injured,” Marsh said.

But the kind of treatment they needed wasn’t readily available in Uvalde, he added.

“We’ve had a pretty large absence of mental health resources in town for a long time,” Marsh told ENS, “and I was trying to figure out how we could help. I talked to somebody and they said, get a hold of the Bereavement Center because they do really good work. They’re a good organization with credible history.”

At the same time, a parishioner who works as an attorney said the Bereavement Center called him asking how they might get some space in town to set up a counseling center in Uvalde. The room in the church was soon being used for that purpose, as well as other locations around town.

The shooting at Robb Elementary is the third-deadliest school shooting in United States history. The perpetrator, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was allowed to buy two AR-15 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition due to the lack of gun regulations in Texas.

For the permanent office, CBCST will completely renovate the small building adjacent to the school and church lot. The parish will retain ownership of the land and lease it to CBCST for a nominal sum, Marsh said. The organization plans to use the building for at least five years, he said.

CBCST’s preliminary design for the new building includes counseling rooms, offices, a cozy living room area, two art therapy rooms and a courtyard. Behind the building, the church had already constructed a labyrinth, which will add to the peaceful and reflective atmosphere. It is planned to employ six full-time staff. Marsh said work will begin in late October or November, and the project should be finished by next spring.

Marsh is encouraging donations to CBCST to help cover their costs for the project.

For decades, The Episcopal Church has advocated for legislation seeking to reduce gun violence in the U.S. After the Uvalde shooting, the church’s Office of Government Relations reiterated its call, rooted in General Convention resolutions, for passage of legislation that would restrict who can own firearms, require background checks, eliminate loopholes, tighten laws against gun trafficking, require gun safety training, fund gun violence prevention programs and address gun violence as a public health crisis.

A full list of the church’s positions on gun violence can be found online. Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network for regular updates and to get involved.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.