Kyle was usually in the lobby when I arrived at church on Sunday mornings, but I didn’t see him when I walked in on the morning of October 30th, just before Sunday School began. I went to the large room in the back of the church, where the “Other Side” was meeting– a new group for grad students, young professionals and parents of young children.
I sat by Jen, Kyle’s wife, in the circle, and the morning’s conversation began. I don’t remember what the topic was. But I do remember that, at some point, I looked over into an open walkway that led into the next room and saw Kyle peeking his head around the corner. He had a mischievous grin on his face, knowing that from where he was standing and we were sitting, Jen and I were the only ones who could see him. He acted like he was getting away with something by intruding on our class, and that no one else but Jen and I were privy to his schemes. I, amused, chuckled a bit under my breath before he snuck out around the corner.
In those days UBC had 3-5 children under the age of 18. There were Avery, Sutton and Jude, Kyle’s kids; John, who alternated weekends between his dad and stepmom and his mom; and Keely, who was a newborn. Occasionally a visitor would come along with children, but few stuck around when they saw we had no large-scale programs for them. We did, however, provide a space for them during the Sunday morning worship services that included a snack, play time and a short lesson. It was difficult finding people willing to work with kids, since our worship services were becoming events that people didn’t want to miss. David and his band had grown, both in artistry and success, into a worldwide phenomenon. Kyle was becoming a stellar preacher. And in a place where most of the congregation had only a limited number of Sundays they could attend (four years worth, minus summers and holidays, in most cases,) few people wanted to be with kids during that time. I was one that did (as I didn’t have a limited number of Sundays,) and was the teacher on that morning in. I’m not a fan of large crowds, and with the Homecoming attendance nearing 1,000, I was more than happy to be away from the sanctuary that day.
There were three children with me, all 2-3 years old—Jude, Sutton and the daughter of a single mom who was visiting, (Avery, Kyle’s 5 year old, was in the next room since she was older,)—and the lesson that day was from Exodus 2, about Moses as a baby.
The Pharoah ordered all Hebrew boys to be killed by being thrown in the waters of the Nile. Moses’ mom, though, had a plan. She placed him in a basket, floating it down the river with his sister keeping watch. Pharoah’s daughter found Moses, noticed he was one of the Hebrew babies and had compassion on him, then sent the sister to fetch a Hebrew mom who could nurse him. His sister knew the perfect mother for the job, and after he was nursed by his own mom, he was given to Pharoah’s daughter, who named him Moses.
The name means “I drew him out of the water.”
As we got to the part of the story where Moses’ mom was placing him in the water, the mother of the young daughter who was visiting UBC walked into the room. She picked up her child and asked if she could stay in the room for a while. She said there had been an accident in the sanctuary, and she wanted to get out of the way of the people who were helping.
The previous week there was a near-accident in the sanctuary during the worship service. A metal-framed gel sheet affixed to a canister light, which brings color to the stage, had fallen as the music was playing, and came close to hitting several people. The damage wouldn’t have been serious, but probably enough to give someone a concussion or lacerations. This occurred across the sanctuary, about 20 feet from me, and I watched it happen. It created in me a category for the word “accident”, which is where I placed it when the lady said “There was an accident.” Serious, but not too serious.
Immediately after I placed it in that category, people started streaming out the doors of the sanctuary, across the hall from the children’s rooms. They were walking, some briskly, out of the building. It became chaotic. I heard a lot of words, detached from individual conversations, coming from the crowd…
Is this a joke?
Is there a pulse?
Robin, a friend of mine who also occasionally worked with the children, walked into the room to grab something, when she caught my eyes her face went white. She said there was an electrocution, but she thought she heard someone say that there was still a pulse. She walked out as quickly as she walked in, without me having a chance to get more details. Then Jamie, Ben’s wife came through the door. I asked, “who was it?” She looked at me, surprised I didn’t yet know.
I immediately felt heavy.
I remember standing to my feet, (I was on the floor, teaching about Moses being drawn out of the water,) and walking to the corner of the room, turning my back to the kids so they couldn’t see my ashen face. I prayed the first genuine prayer I had prayed in many years: “God, I’m scared. I can’t pray. But I need you to let my fear be my prayer.”
I composed myself and sat back on the floor with the boys. By that time the new mom had taken her daughter out. Avery’s teacher had brought her into the room, and we were doing our best to not let them know anything out of the ordinary was going on. After a few moments of playing with the flannel graph board, used in the telling of the Moses story, someone came into the room and handed me the keys to Kyle and Jen’s minivan. I was told that Jen wanted me to take the kids home, but to exit out the back door so they wouldn’t see everything that was happening. As someone else watched the kids, I went into the front parking lot to get the vehicle. It was muggy and overcast. When I saw the ambulance parked by the door, I knew my life was about to change.
On the way to the house, my phone was exploding with calls.
How can we help with the kids? Do y’all need lunch? We are coming over.
Once we got to the house, I took the kids to the back yard to play on their swing set. After a few minutes, people came over with food. Others had come to help with the kids. There was a crowd forming and a feeling of uncertainty in the air. I was the most uncertain, because I wasn’t in the room when the accident occurred and really didn’t even know what was going on, aside from hearing the words “water” and “electrocution.” Once enough people came outside to watch over the kids, I went into the house to ask someone to tell me what had happened.
Kyle was in the water, getting ready to baptize someone. His lapel microphone (powered by an 8 volt battery,) wasn’t working, so he reached out of the baptistery to grab another microphone to use, and was electrocuted. None of us knew enough about electricity to form a conclusion, but we all knew enough to know that it didn’t seem to make sense how doing what he did could create anything more serious than just an extremely uncomfortable feeling.
As several of us were standing around, trying to make sense of it all, Tracey, a long time leader at UBC, got a phone call. It was Toni, David’s wife. David and the band were on the road, (another band was leading worship on that day,) but they were in contact with the hospital via phone.
I followed Tracey outside the side door, into the open garage. She listened to Toni, looked up at me, and I knew. When she hung up, she told me to get to the hospital as fast as I could.