For those celebrating Advent, the Christian time of expectation, preparation and waiting in memory of Jesus Christ's birth, the killings Friday of three people in Geeseytown could cast a pall over what is otherwise a celebratory season.
Local clergy members addressed violence, gun control and the nature of evil in sermons and prayers Sunday, striking at deep social issues instead of what one called "feel-good" topics as Christmas approaches. Each remembered the Friday shooting deaths of Kimberley A. Scott, 58, of Duncansville and William Rhodes Jr., 38, and his father-in-law, Kenneth Lynn, 60, both of Hollidaysburg, in different ways Sunday.
It's nearly impossible not to discuss the past two weeks' tragedies, both national and local, said the Rev. Clement Gardner, priest at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Parish in Hollidaysburg.
Just a week after he addressed the massacre of 27 people in Newtown, Conn., before each Mass, Gardner said he again discussed violence before Sunday's liturgies.
"It hit us at a distance, but in an intimate way because it was children. And then it hit us close, because it's our neighbors," he said. "In rare times do you see blatant evil. We saw evil touch our neighbors and families."
The stories surrounding Christmas aren't without mention of violence and evil, Gardner said: in the Bible, King Herod ordered the massacre of baby boys in Bethlehem shortly after Jesus' birth.
"It's the elephant in the room. You have to address it, and not just casually," he said.
Tragedies like Friday's can ripple outward, affecting friends and relatives in ways that aren't immediately visible, Pastor Mark Halliday of the Bare Memorial Church of God in Roaring Spring said Sunday.
Halliday said he addressed the massacre during a prayer time.
"People in our church know the families. A couple in our church got married in that church," he said, referencing the Gesseytown church where the first killing took place Friday. "It's shocked a lot of us."
It's difficult to find good in a massacre, but Halliday said he cites stories of redemption when discussing tragedies like Friday's - or the killings a week earlier in Connecticut - with his parishoners.
Halliday recalled the story of a religious man who died at a young age: his death was tragic, the pastor said, but after his passing, a grieving sister who'd abused drugs and alcohol found her way back to the church.
"There's no way, as humans, that we can grasp the whole picture," Halliday said.
The Rev. Jeanne Jacobson, pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hollidaysburg, said the shooting victims and their families, along with the issue of violence, were included in Sunday's prayers of the people.
But Jacobson said she didn't say much in her sermon Sunday because she addressed the violence issue in her Dec. 15 sermon, two days after 27 people died in a massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Jacobson's sermon focused on Luke 3:7-18, where John the Baptist calls the people of his day to repentance.
"[John the Baptist] insistently, even with strong language, urges the people to repentance, turning from evil and even indifference to God's word to actively bearing good fruit, to actively showing in their lives that turning from the world's way to God's way, rather than simply professing repentance in words," Jacobson said, according to a sermon transcript provided to the Mirror.
Sins of omissions are just as much sins as are sins of commission, Jacobson said.
"If there is a silence on violence and a lack of gun control laws with no real movement, they are sins of omission," she said.
Loving each other in concrete, practical ways is just as important in stopping the violence, Jacobson said.
"'The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference,'" she quoted Elie Wiesel in her sermon.
"Knowing that people are in need and refusing to help is sin, a sin that can be repented of and forgiven, enabling us to begin to show care and concern for each other or to increase those individual efforts. He goes on to give other concrete examples, reminding the people that it is God who has commanded these things," she said.
Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has called upon his Diocesan Committee on Peace and Justice to draft a statement calling for greater enforcement of existing laws as well as more stringent gun control action, which he said he will sign and send to state and federal legislators, Jacobson said.
With the spree's first murder taking place in a church - reportedly while members were hanging Christmas decorations - one could imagine a sense of fear or outrage among parishoners and outside clergy members.
Instead, Halliday said, it will likely draw the Juniata Valley Gospel Church community closer together.
He cited the 2006 murders of five Amish children in a Lancaster County schoolhouse: the survivors and their communities rallied not only for each other, but for the killer's family, he recalled.
The Lancaster Amish community's emphasis on forgiveness was the best example anyone could follow, Halliday said.
Gardner noted that Christian teaching doesn't say evil can be avoided - only that people's good has to overcome it.
"As Christians, we're called not to react, but to respond," he said.