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In his first sermon since his daughter was killed in a mass shooting at a Christian school, Chad Scruggs, the senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, discussed the complicated nature of grief while thanking the church for supporting his family during their pain.

Scruggs told his Nashville-based church in a message titled “Loss and Gain,” “First of all, we love you. We loved you before March 27, and we love you more now because of how you have loved us.” Scruggs’ only daughter and youngest child, Hallie, was one of the six victims murdered in a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville after 28-year-old shooter Audrey Hale fired through the doors and shot.

Hale was shot dead by the police, who rushed to the scene 14 minutes after the initial 911 call. Scruggs said his family is usually asked how they’re doing, but “we just don’t know how to answer it yet. We’re not doing well; kind of searching for a new baseline in life right now.” The pastor said he’s finding comfort in C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed.”

Scruggs said, “Lewis talked about that loss like an amputation, which has been helpful for me for this reason. How are you doing? Well, we’re learning to live with a part of us missing.” He continued, “Like losing an arm, perhaps, knowing that the phantom pain of that lost arm will always be there with us, just know that from our perspective now it feels impossible to ever pretend the arm will regenerate or that it will ever feel whole this side of Heaven. So I’d say we’re learning to live with sadness. And I will tell you that that’s OK. You can do that. Learning to live with sadness.”

He said he’s thankful that his wife and their sons have never felt “alone” in their time of grief and thanked his congregation for their support. “You have shown up to suffer with us, which is an acknowledgment that love under the shadow of the cross is often best expressed not with words but in presence and tears.”

People experience death, the pastor said, as the “cutting off of relationships.” He drew parallels between the love his family has experienced from the church and the women at the cross with Jesus. “Death destroys families,” he said. “Yet here’s Jesus in His own death, assuring us that in Him, relationships are never severed. Families are not destroyed, but just the opposite. They’re actually expanded and grown in Him.”

In addition to Scruggs, students Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney were killed, school janitor Mike Hill, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and school head Katherine Koonce, who reportedly ran toward the shooter to protect the children. The FBI and police have not publicly released a motive for the shooting. However, Hale, who previously attended the school, reportedly left a detailed manifesto and plan for the shooting at her home and in her car.

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