CHURCH HILL — In the face of so much death this school year, some members of the community surrounding Volunteer High School are putting their faith in God’s plan.
Dozens of students, parents, and family members of those who have passed attended a prayer vigil on the VHS campus Monday night in memory of four students and one teacher whose sudden, unexpected deaths over the past two months have shaken the community to its core.
The event was led by Jackie Flanary, whose 16-year-old son Peyton was involved in a vehicular accident on Nov. 30 and succumbed to his injuries on Dec. 5.
“Even though it feels like we can’t take any more, God said he’ll never put on us more than we can bear,” Flanary told the crowd. “We’ve all got to believe in Him. We’re all coming together for one purpose, and that’s to pray together — to bring this community together.”
The prayers Monday evening were for the family and friends of 18-year-old student Jimmy Cradic, who died of hypothermia on Nov. 27; students Lacota Allison, 18, and William “Billy” Nauert, 18, who were killed in a vehicular accident on Jan. 24; Church Hill Intermediate School teacher Crystal Davenport, 40, who died Jan. 13 following a sudden illness; and Peyton Flanary.
Jackie Flanary said his son would have enjoyed Monday’s event very much.
“He was really wanting to push a Bible club here at this school,” Flanary said. “He didn’t get a chance to before his accident, but since then they’ve started and already had their first event.”
Flanary added, “He’d be very happy (with Monday’s event), I know that. This is what he wanted to see. He always said he don’t understand why everybody don’t just come together and stop all the arguing and fussing. Seeing this would really make him joyful.”
Monday’s prayer was led by Rev. Jonathan Lovelace, who is pastor at “The Promise” church in Church Hill and is also a non-faculty golf coach at VHS.
Lovelace said after the event he hopes this is a step toward healing for the community.
“I guess the biggest benefit is the community coming together and looking to the Lord, Jesus Christ for answers and help in times like this,” Lovelace said. “You certainly can’t prepare for a school year like we’ve had here at Volunteer. We’re just coming together, and praying together, believing God’s going to help us get through situations like this. We prayed for comfort and strength for the families of these young folks who passed away, and we prayed a hedge of protection around our school, the teachers and the kids who are here going forward.”
Following an initial prayer, the group walked around the VHS building. Some stopped and prayed from time to time. Other prayed as they walked.
“I think it just gives some people some comfort and hope,” Flanary said. “It’s just bringing us together as one community, one school, one facility. It’s not going to be normal any more. It’s sort of like the new normal.”
Flanary added, “God is in control, and whatever plan he has for us is just the road that we’re on, and just trust in him. ...We’re going to believe that God has everything worked out. We might not know what it is right now, but we’re going to know.”