Frances Anne Fortner

May 18, 2018

To Our St. James’ Family,

As many of you have probably heard, a dear member of our parish, 18-year-old Frances Anne Fortner, daughter of Tom and Laurilyn Fortner, died yesterday in a traffic accident. Franny had grown up at St. James’ ever since her family moved to Jackson when she was in the third grade. (And Tom and Laurilyn are both very involved St. James’ parishioners -Laurilyn has been an active member of our ECW, and Tom is an usher who has served on the Vestry and as our parish Treasurer.)

The horror of yesterday’s accident is made all the more awful by the fact that she was on her way to her high school graduation rehearsal when it happened; and today was to be her high school graduation from Jackson Academy. Also, as news reports have indicated, the cause of the accident, a faulty manhole cover, had been previously reported to police earlier in the day. The timing, the seemingly random and avoidable nature of the accident-it’s all just so terrible. And it’s sent shock-waves through the Jackson Academy community, through our St. James’ family and through the entire city of Jackson. How could this happen?

Franny was a vibrant, smart, artistic and, above all, utterly beloved young woman. Yesterday evening, at a prayer service at JA-led by fellow members of the JA Class of 2018-students and teachers took turns telling stories about Franny, how she had inspired them, made them laugh, cared for them. And throughout the day yesterday, at the Fortners’ home, St. James’ parishioners and other friends of the family flowed in and out, offering food, hugs and prayer.

It seemed to me that the same question was burning in everyone’s heart: How could this happen? And a few folks asked me, “What do you say? What do I say to my children? What do I say to myself?”

Well, I don’t have a simple answer to the question of what to say in the midst of such a horror. But I do know what we must do. It’s the same thing we’re already doing. We must love and care for one another, especially Tom and Laurilyn and all the young people who were so close to Franny. We must love one another through this, recognizing that all the varied and extreme feelings that are flooding us now-and will come in a rush tomorrow and next week and next month and next year-are okay and natural. Whether we feel intense anger or sadness or bitterness or regret or frustration or confusion, let’s not be shy about expressing it-and let’s be loving and patient with one another as all those feelings flow through us.

The other question I’m hearing is: “Where is God in this?” Again, I don’t have a simple answer, but I do believe that God is everywhere, all the time. And I believe that God is with Franny, loving her and caring for her. And I believe that God is here with us, loving us and caring for us. God was profoundly present at the prayer service at JA last night and God has been present at the Fortners home as all those visitors have come through to express their love and support for Laurilyn and Tom and for one another.

So my prayer is that we can continue to hold fast to our God-given love for one another, even in the midst of our sadness and anger and disbelief that something like this could happen. Let us be gentle and loving with one another every chance we get, and in those simple caring words and actions, we will see and know that God is in our midst.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Wishing you comfort and all peace,