`Something very wrong happened here and it hurts and it shocks and it damages us if we leave it there.’
Rev. Dale Lang, parish priest of St. Theodore’s, Taber, and father of slain student
In spite of their grief over the death of their murdered teenage son, an Anglican priest and his wife in southern Ablerta reached out to students in the days following the murder, telling them not to be afraid and exorcising evil from them.
The April 28 shooting at W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alta., a town of about 7,200, claimed the life 17-year-old Jason Lang and seriously injured his best friend, also 17. A 14-year-old boy was later charged with murder and attempted murder.
In the days following the first fatal high school shooting in Canada in 20 years, shock and disbelief mingled with respect for the victim’s family when Jason’s father, Rev. Dale Lang, spoke publicly with compassion and courage in the midst of grief.
Mr. Lang is rector of St. Theodore’s Church in Taber, where he and his wife Diane have raised their family for the past 12 years. Jason, a Grade 11 student, was the middle of five children.
The shooting happened barely a week after two teens in Littleton, Colo., gunned down 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves, igniting national debates on youth violence and gun control. Amid extensive media speculation about the cause of the shootings, the Langs in a public statement the day after their son was murdered simply asked God for mercy “on this broken society and all the hurting people.”
“They’ve made very generous and very Christ-like choices in the midst of an incalculable loss,” said Rev. James Robinson, rector of St. Augustine’s in nearby Lethbridge. The community has taken notice, he adds. “When a person speaks of their Christian faith with integrity, people are ready to listen.”
Archbishop Barry Curtis of the Diocese of Calgary conducted a private funeral service for Jason May 3. In attendance were most of the clergy from the diocese, which covers much of southern Alberta and includes 96 churches. The Langs “wanted to be with their Anglican family,” said Mr. Robinson. The Langs are well known among Anglicans in the area, he said, where Mr. Lang is a regional dean.
Earlier that day, Mr. Lang spoke at a packed memorial service at the high school. “Something very wrong happened here and it hurts and it shocks and it damages us if we leave it there,” he told the crowd, many of them weeping high school students. He encouraged the teens to take back their school. He also prayed for the 14-year-old boy charged with murder. “Lord God, he needs you so badly.”
During the memorial, the Langs walked to the spot where Jason was shot, and prayed for evil to be cast out so students could walk in the hallways “with joy in their hearts.”
Several dignitaries attended the memorial service, including Aline Chretien, wife of the Prime Minister, and Premier Ralph Klein. But Mr. Lang directed his comments towards the young people, said Mr. Robinson. “When Dale said to those kids, ?We love you guys,’ they knew he meant it. He was very much ministering to the kids.”
Jason Lang was in many ways a typical teen, according to his dad. He enjoyed sports and had bought his first car – a 1983 Camaro – three days before he died. But he also loved playing with children, especially his seven-year-old sister Jennifer. Last summer on a mission trip to Mexico, Jason could often be found playing with the young children in the neighbourhood, said St. Theodore’s youth director Mike Rose. “He really seemed to have great compassion for children.”
Jason was also known for his Christian faith. The Mexican trip renewed his faith in God, said Mr. Lang. “God touched him and used him in a powerful way.”
Mr. Rose, who was on the trip with Jason and other young people, agreed. “He had that intense encounter with the love of God and it changed him.”
The night after Jason died, Mr. Rose and his wife Andrea, who co-directs the group of about 20 young people, gathered teens together and invited another pastor who is also a counselor. Fifty-five youth spent the next three hours praying together and telling stories about Jason.
Students in Lethbridge high schools played in the same sports leagues as Jason, and some had gone on the same mission trip with him. The tragedy “really struck close to home,” said Len Robinson, a high school physics teacher and mentor for a Christian club.
Early on the Friday morning two days after Jason died, about a dozen Lethbridge students gathered around their school’s flagpole and prayed. “We prayed for the school, for Jason’s family, the family of the other young man that was hurt, and for the young man who did the shooting,” said Mr. Robinson, who operates the Web site for the Diocese of Calgary.
On Sunday, May 2, Mr. Lang conducted the church service at St. Theodore’s as usual, playing guitar while Mrs. Lang sang with the worship team. It was emotionally difficult but important to do, he said in a telephone interview the following morning. “It was part of the healing process for all of us.”
Prayer has also been an important aspect. Prayer support from Christians around the world has been “tremendous,” said Mr. Lang. “Thousands upon thousands of Christians have been praying for us.”
Several people who were part of prayer gatherings or attended the memorial service reported seeing visions or angels. Church Army Captain Christine Pierce, who works as a chaplain at the Lethbridge Correctional Centre, said she first saw angels standing at the door of the school, while someone else saw angels descending from Heaven.
“When we were praying during the church service on Sunday, I saw legions of angels marching down the streets of Taber,” she said. “They just kept coming. It was awesome.”
Condolences and Lang memorial fundA memorial fund for troubled young people has been established at St. Theodore’s. Donations can be sent to the Jason Lang Memorial Fund, c/o St. Theodore’s Anglican Church, 5120 44th Ave., Taber, AB T1G 1A9.
Many parishes and individuals have contacted the national church asking where to send condolences to Rev. Dale and Diane Lang, parents of Jason Lang. The 17-year-old student was shot to death recently at his high school in Taber, Alta.. His father Dale is rector of St. Theodore’s. Send cards, letters and prayers to the Langs and their children, Jeff, Jennifer, Mark and Matthew, at St. Theodore’s Church, 5120 44th Ave., Taber, AB T1G 1A9.
Debra Fieguth lives in Winnipeg and is associate editor of Christian Week.