Pastor Recalls Time with Miners' Families

Jerry Murrell, pastor of the Way of Holiness church in Buckhannon, W. Va., spent the day and night Tuesday at Sago Baptist Church. He talks about the scene at the church as the families of the trapped miners first heard celebratory, then devastating, news.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're going to continue with our coverage of the mine accident in West Virginia. Twelve of the 13 men who were trapped underground died. The survivor is in critical condition, suffering from a collapsed lung and dehydration. Today the CEO of the company that owns the mine expressed regret about the confusion that took place last night. For three hours, family and friends of the men believed that 12 of the miners had survived.

NORRIS: Pastor Jerry Murrell is with the Way of Holiness Church in Buckhannon, West Virginia. He spent all day and all night yesterday at the Sago Baptist Church, where family and friends of the trapped miners had gathered. He joins us now from his home.

Pastor Murrell, you were in the church when word came that all of the men had survived.

Reverend JERRY MURRELL (Way of Holiness Church): Yes, ma'am. The original report was all but one had survived, at which time it erupted into just unbelievable celebration with children dancing in the aisles that they would soon be reunited with their fathers. And it was just such a gamut of emotions. It's just beyond description.

NORRIS: And then after this period of jubilation, the absolutely devastating news...

Rev. MURRELL: Yes.

NORRIS: ...that all but one of the men were gone. How and when did you learn that news?

Rev. MURRELL: Just a few minutes, a few brief minutes before it was introduced to the entire congregation. There were a few, I believe, Red Cross workers, and some of us on clergy and professionals that were there for counseling were pulled aside to be told that there was something drastically wrong. And then, of course, the governor and mine officials and a brigade of troopers entered the building for an announcement, and yet everyone was still just waiting for the best and, you know, happy. And there was singing and, as I said, you know, dancing and music and everything that you would expect.

It was almost as if people had experienced the Resurrection only to be--the tragedy of what had happened was quite enough, but for them to be allowed to believe that this report was correct, and we were told repeatedly that we would be the first to know. But with the media intercepting cell phone calls and some very rude intrusions by some of the media, there was just such confusion. And of course, people want to believe the best. And I don't know that this community will ever fully recover from the emotional effects of what's taken place.

NORRIS: Pastor, what have you told people if you've had a chance to sit down and talk to them, and what are they saying to you right now?

Rev. MURRELL: There's such deep anger intermingled with the grief, and people are angry and bitter and not sure who to be angry at. And speaking to people, I've even told them, `Hey, you know, your anger is all right. Even if you're angry at God, God will understand and love you,' you know. And all we could basically do was weep with them. I don't know what else to do in such a time. In the days ahead, there's going to be a need for lots of care and compassion, and the closure that will be essential will be someone explaining as to why they were not told that the information was incorrect. That's what's so unbelievable.

NORRIS: It's only Wednesday. The end of the week seems like a long way off. But are you starting to think about your Sunday sermon?

Rev. MURRELL: Yes, ma'am, but I think it will mostly be a speech trying to bring comfort to the congregation. I don't even know if a sermon will be in order.

NORRIS: What would you do if you didn't deliver a sermon, perhaps let people talk?

Rev. MURRELL: That's a possibility. I really can't--we're a very spontaneous church, anyway, so we believe in being led by the Holy Spirit. And so we're mostly there to--obviously there to minister to people's needs. And so hopefully we'll have some answers, you know. I just don't know what else to say to you.

NORRIS: Pastor Murrell, thank you so much for talking to us. All the best to you.

Rev. MURRELL: You're welcome. Thank you.

NORRIS: Pastor Jerry Murrell is with the Way of Holiness Church in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

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