Sometimes there's only silence. When terror and loss capture a heart, words seem to lose all meaning. That's the way it was on July 17, when 21 residents of Montoursville, PA, met with a tragic death in the crash of TWA Flight 800.
But now the Rev. Bruce Fisher, of First United Methodist Church in Montoursville, is attempting to help people find the words and the sentiments that give meaning to the grief.
Cheryl Nibert, 16, was killed on the TWA flight. She was an active member of Fisher's congregation, who he said, "was just a beautiful girl who cared about sharing the peace and joy she knew with others. She was a youth missionary, always touching the lives of other kids. Cheryl was always so upbeat and positive. If anyone ever got angry with her, it was because she was always so happy."
In planning her memorial service, Fisher attempted to capture some of the joy and hope. "That's who Cheryl was," he said.
But inside the joy is a tremendous sense of loss, confusion and anger as those who loved her try to make sense of what happened. At a worship service on the Sunday following the crash, Fisher "shared with them the will of God" He had heard talk in the time immediately following the crash of "God needing those teenagers." Such theology made him "bristle."
He told the congregation about the three facets of God's will - intentional, circumstantial and ultimate - and related them to the cross. "God did not send Jesus so that we could kill him, but so that we could follow him. That's the intentional. The circumstantial was that Jesus could run away or die. But God's ultimate will was not thwarted. The resurrection allows us to be one with the one who created us in his image," Fisher explained.
However, amidst the explanation he found the greatest healer to be a simple, heartfelt embrace.
He embraced Cheryl's parents the night their daughter died. His wife held three girls whom she hardly knew at the town's memorial service in the high school gymnasium.
Fisher was a little surprised at the way the whole community seemed to turn to God in this tragedy. People flocked to the memorial service, led by 12 local clergy people, gathering "with an expectation of having something eternal injected into the tragedy. They were looking for hope," he said. "They wanted something secure in a world that seems so slippery and unpredictable."
While a silence still grips many of those in Montoursville, Fisher is certain that the numbness of the tragedy is just beginning to lead to stronger emotions as people travel down the pathway towards healing.
At the end, as a part of Cheryl's legacy, he hopes they find "that God's grace comes to us through the love and concern of others. Loving others," he said, "helps us find new depths and the strength to live creatively and now so that we may know God eternally."
In memory of Cheryl Nibert, a member of Faith United Methodist Church who died in the TWA crash, family members have established a memorial fund. All gifts will be used for youth ministry. Those wishing to contribute can send a check, marked "TWA Flight 800 Memorial Fund," to Faith UMC; P.O. Box 176, Montoursville, PA 17754.
Related Sites on the Internet
- Links to information about the plane crash
- Internet users can subscribe to a mailing list of information related to Flight 800. To be added to the mailing list send an email message to: [email protected] with the word SUBSCRIBE in the subject field.
[ Return to the News ] [ Return to the Archives ]
Copyright © 1998 Villagelife.org Inc. All Rights Reserved