Faith leaders fight their own trauma as they minister to families of those killed in Chicago violence

Javonte Anderson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

CHICAGO -- There he stood again, centered in his pulpit, trying to make sense of yet another life lost to violence in Chicago's streets.

Dressed in a gray pinstripe suit, the Rev. Ira Acree glanced at his notes, then skimmed the crowd searching for the right words to comfort the grieving eyes staring back at him.

"Her life mattered," Acree said as he gestured to the purple casket where the body of 13-year-old Amaria Jones lay.

"That's why the city is grieving. Her soul mattered. Her dreams mattered, and her future mattered."

It was a Friday evening in early July, and Acree assumed the role many pastors must in the aftermath of a killing -- being a steady voice in chaos. But this snapshot of a funeral inside the Greater St. John Bible Church barely starts to convey the burden religious leaders carry.

With more than 450 homicides this year and counting, Chicago is on pace for one of its deadliest years.


And while the effects of Chicago's carnage are wide-reaching -- devastating families and scarring communities -- it also takes a toll on the religious leaders who serve as spiritual guides for those who choose to follow.

For many pastors, ministry extends beyond their church walls and into the streets. And as the cycle of bloodshed unfolds, ministers and priests must also bear a portion of the trauma, as they comfort families in mourning and eulogize the dead.

"To do a eulogy is to give some meaning to the life, focused around some type of Bible verse of theological concept," said the Rev. Marshall Elijah Hatch Sr., of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.

Their role is often a hybrid of ministry, counseling and activism.


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