Less than two weeks after the shooting of six people at a small Christian school in Nashville, the city’s raw mourning was swept into sprawling, emotional protests and political strife, culminating in accusations of racism over the expulsion of two young Black state legislators. It has been an extraordinary and painful season of hugs and funerals, marches and speeches, tears and anger.
Now, this divided and battered city will pause and gather in its many churches for Easter Sunday, the culmination of the most important week in the Christian calendar. It is a day that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, a biblical account that for Christians signifies the ultimate triumph of life over death. And it is serving as a touchstone for mourners and activists across the city, who are finding a kind of assurance in the 2,000-year-old holiday.
“Everything changes on Sunday,” said the evangelical podcaster Annie F. Downs, who lives down the street from the Covenant School, where an armed assailant shot and killed three children and three adults on March 27. “Our loss is not erased, but we all get this very visible reminder that hope is not lost.”
Nashville’s distinctly evangelical ecosystem means the shooting deaths of three 9-year-olds and three adults in a Christian school have had a reverberating effect through a large network of churches, Christian schools and celebrities in the city’s interlocking worlds of music, money and ministry.
That means Easter in Nashville is different than in many other places in the country. There are services at the Ryman Auditorium, at the Catholic Cathedral downtown and at hundreds of congregations large and small. It is a city where most people know where the governor and their senators go to services, and where the question, “Where do you go to church?” is a common icebreaker. More than half of the adults in the state of Tennessee identified as evangelical Protestants in a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, more than twice the share nationally.
It will be a moment for residents across the city to sit down, perhaps not in the same pews or with the same politics, but to contemplate the same story.
Covenant Presbyterian Church, which is attached to the school where the shooting took place, is planning its first Sunday service in its sanctuary since the shooting. Ms. Downs will host a sold-out benefit concert for the school next week whose headliners include Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, and Sandra McCracken, a high-profile hymn-writer and singer who is married to the church’s director of music, Tim Nicholson. They’re calling it the “Night of Joy.”
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