GREENFIELD — An air of gratefulness hung in the sanctuary, from the start of service to the end.
By Sunday morning, most every member of Trinity Park United Methodist Church had heard about Friday’s accident, a three-vehicle crash that overturned one of their church vans full of children.
As quickly as the news — 13 injured, including the 11 children on board — spread that afternoon, words of reassurance followed. There were scrapes and bruises, in some cases, broken bones, but no one was severely hurt.
Standing before the congregation Sunday morning, the Rev. Mike Manning assured that everyone involved in the crash was safe. By Monday, all but one person — a passenger in another car — had been released from medical care, police said.
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He thanked his flock for its outpouring of support amid the chaos Friday afternoon.
Asking for the community’s continued prayers and support Monday afternoon, Manning said the church is ready for things to get back to normal. Some of the kids hurt in the wreck returned for a regular day at the church’s daycare program. They won’t take any field trips this week, but at least they’re all back together. Safe.
“Everybody’s alright,” Manning said Monday. “That’s all that matters now.”
Many of the children hurt in the accident aren’t members of Trinity Park’s congregation, but its members covered them in prayer Sunday during their weekly services.
As part of the church’s Alpha Omega program, families from across the community are offered day-long care for their children.
And when the unthinkable happened — a truck that ran a red light smashed into the van, tipping it on its side, police said — the children’s caregivers leapt into action.
Some hurried to the scene, an associate pastor among them, to make sure the children involved were OK.
Other congregation members directed their attention to the dozens of children who were already at the church but had started to hear stories their friends had been in an accident on the way home from a field trip.
They brought snacks and words of comfort, working alongside program leaders to distract the children as everyone waited for more information.
Church leaders and police, meanwhile, were feverishly working their way down the list of emergency contact numbers, divvying up calls to alert parents to the news. Some church members also posted a note to a private Alpha Omega parent Facebook group to help spread updates more quickly.
Within about 10 minutes, everyone with an injured child had been notified, officials said.
When Carrie Swails’ phone rang Friday afternoon, it was an Indiana State Police officer who relayed that her son, Jayce, had been involved in the accident.
The trooper’s voice on the other end of the line was calm, Swails said. He reported that no one had been seriously hurt and that she’d just need to come to the hospital to reunite with her son. He had a sprained ankle but nothing a little rest wouldn’t heal.
It was a shocking bit of news, Swails said, but the officer’s demeanor helped her keep her own composure. She admitted she thought the whole incident must have been a fender-bender until she saw pictures of the damaged church van online later that afternoon.
By the next day, all the children had been released from the hospital, returned to their homes to rest up and continue to heal.
Sunday morning, Manning surprised the congregation.
No one was expecting to see him there. He’s leaving the church for another congregation, and his final Sunday at the pulpit was June 11. But the people he’d led for years, who had come to think of him as family, needed guidance. Their pastor was one of many ready to lend a hand to a congregation in need of calm and healing, said Pam Johnson, the church’s music director.
Help seemed to pour into the church from every direction, Johnson said.
Trained grief counselors from local schools came to the church within minutes of Friday’s accident, and they returned Monday with words of advice for guiding both staff and children through the trauma, Johnson said.
“The community was incredible,” she said. “We were so thankful. We had some tears as we were talking about it during the service. It was very touching to all of us.”
The youngsters involved in the crash who returned to Alpha Omega on Monday seemed to be coping well, Swails said. Her son was eager to return to his friends, ready to share his harrowing tales and show off “his battle wounds,” she joked.
Looking back on what happened, simple lessons the church has long followed — buckle every child in, don’t let a little one sit up front — seemed ever more important, Johnson said.
“If you look at those pictures and you see what happened, … it was only by the grace of God we had the kind of outcome that we had,” she said.