Episcopal church in Uvalde, Texas, observes one-year mark since elementary school mass shooting with butterfly release, art therapy

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted May 25, 2023

Crosses bearing the names of the victims, flowers, toys and other objects were left last May in the aftermath of the deadliest U.S. school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Veronica G. Cardenas via REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] May 24 marked one year since 19 children and two adults were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a city with a predominantly Latino population located 54 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Most of the victims were Catholic, but the shooting impacted the entire city of approximately 15,000 people. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church & School, Uvalde’s only Episcopal church, observed the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting with public prayer services, art therapy, a butterfly release and more.

At this time, on the first anniversary of the school shooting at Robb Elementary, our efforts as a diocese are solely focused on caring for the community of Uvalde and supporting the people who are still living in the midst of this grief,” West Texas Bishop David Reed said in a statement to Episcopal News Service.

Reed and his wife Patti Reed visited Uvalde on the anniversary to support St. Philip’s parishioners and join them in community outreach “as a memorial to those who died and as a commitment to the work of reducing gun violence.”

St. Philip’s opened to the community at 10 a.m. local time for prayer and reflection. Parishioners and other attendees gathered at the church’s labyrinth for a butterfly release at 11:32, the hour and minute the shooting started, which was followed by the church bell ringing at 12:49 p.m., the hour and minute the shooting ended. Reed offered prayers and rang the church’s bell. Other Episcopal churches in the West Texas diocese rang their bells at the same time in support of St. Philip’s and the Uvalde community, including Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Lockhart and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church & School in San Antonio. The Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio, home of West Texas’ diocesan offices, also rang its bell at 12:49 p.m. in solidarity.

In the afternoon, Patti Reed led an “art from the heart” therapy workshop for participants of all ages to learn to heal through creativity. A local artist, she has been hosting creativity and spirituality workshops and retreats in the West Texas diocese since Reed was elected suffragan bishop in 2006, and she frequently works with clergy and their spouses.

St. Philip’s concluded its day of remembrance with evening prayer and candle lighting officiated by its rector, the Rev. Michael Marsh. The liturgy can be read online.

As part of its continuing efforts to support the greater Uvalde community’s healing, St. Philip’s is currently remodeling rooms in one of its buildings to become a permanent branch of San Antonio-based nonprofit Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which assisted families of victims in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting. The bereavement center offers counseling and support to children and families mourning the death of loved ones.

“We’ve had a pretty large absence of mental health resources in town for a long time,” Marsh told ENS in October 2022. “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.”

Uvalde’s mass shooting is ninth-deadliest shooting in United States history, the third-deadliest school shooting and, overall, the deadliest in 2022, a year in which 646 total mass shootings occurred, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an American nonprofit that catalogs every incident of gun deaths in the United States. A mass shooting is any shooting in which at least four people are shot. So far in 2023, more than 200 mass shootings have occurred nationwide.

Days after turning 18, the gunman who attacked Robb Elementary School legally purchased two AR-15 rifles and 1,657 total rounds of ammunition, which is more than what a U.S. soldier carries into combat.

One week before Uvalde’s mass shooting anniversary, member bishops of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of more than 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail gun violence, gathered in Washington, D.C., to listen to local gun control advocates and experts on community-based and data-driven methods to eradicate gun violence.

“We must do something as it’s our call not only as Christians, but as human beings, the Rev. Daniel Gutiérrez, bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, told ENS at the conference. “I don’t want to hear about another mother, father, sister, brother crying, because someone’s lost. And we cannot just simply pray and hope it will go away, even though prayers are essential. We must do something. And if we come together as a community, I think we will find that way.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.