St. Stephen’s first service after the shootout: “They made sure everyone was welcome at their table; it cost them their lives

The congregation at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, just three days after three members were shot and killed during a church dinner in the parish hall, returned to worship Sunday morning with a message of love.

“We come to mourn at the foot of the cross,” said the Reverend John Burress, the rector of Stephen’s, who was traveling in Greece at the time of the shooting but returned home on Friday evening and was preaching services this morning. . “It looks a lot like Holy Saturday.”

He compared the doom supper in church on Thursday night to Jesus’ Last Supper, when Jesus included Judas Iscariot.

“It was a simple meal of camaraderie and love,” Burruss said. “He even invited his friend who would betray him. He loved Judas so much it cost him his life.

The deceased members of St. Stephen’s Church were following Jesus’ teaching and example when they invited their killer to dine with them.

“They made sure everyone was welcome at their table,” Burruss said. “It cost them their lives.”

The followers of Jesus experienced the same feeling, he said. “Their friend was taken away,” Burruss said. “It was really dark. It’s the heart of the Christian faith.

The church mourns the death of members Walter “Bart” Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham; and Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover. Robert Findlay Smith, 70, has been charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting.

“How do we respond? said Burruss. “We reach out in love to a hurting world.”

He announced that the funerals of the deceased will be held Wednesday and Thursday: for Rainey at 11 a.m. Wednesday, for Yeager at 3 p.m. Wednesday; and for books at 11 a.m. Thursday.

“We’re in this together; we’ll get through this together,” Burruss said at the end of the 8 a.m. service.

Worshipers gather at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills for the 8 a.m. service on Sunday, June 19, 2022, the first service after three members were shot and killed during a church dinner in the hall parish on June 16, 2022. (Photo by Greg Garrison/