JACKSON — Union University students, faculty, and staff gathered for a special prayer service Feb. 14 in G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel as they mourned the loss of Union student Olivia Greenlee.
“Reeling, staggering, speechless, grieving: These are words that describe us this week,” said Todd Brady, vice president for university ministries, during the service. “We have not known what to pray for as we ought, and we have trusted that the Spirit has interceded for us with groanings that are too deep for words.”
Greenlee, a senior music major from Dyersburg, was found dead in her car at Luther Hall Feb. 12 from an apparent gunshot wound. Greenlee is the granddaughter of Joe Naylor, retired director of missions for Dyer Baptist Association, based in Dyersburg.
On Feb. 15, Jackson police arrested Charles Pittman, a senior Christian ministries major, in connection with Greenlee’s death.
In addition to comments from Brady and Union President David S. Dockery, Union students Hope Lewis and Tori Brooks read Scripture during the service and the Union University Singers, of which Greenlee was a member, sang “He Hideth My Soul.” Faculty and staff members led in prayer, responsive reading, and congregational singing.
“Many of us are baffled, in disbelief, sad, and grieving, yet grieving not without hope because of our faith and our confidence in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Dockery said. “The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. And across campus this week, there have been plenty of tears.”
Brady said that tragedies result in God’s people turning to God and to each other, and that’s what has happened on the Union campus this week. Union’s Zeta Tau Alpha chapter, of which Greenlee was a member, gathered Wednesday to read Scripture, while the music department met Thursday to sing and share a meal.
“As we move into this weekend together, as we move into this semester together, and as we move into the rest of our days, let us continue our turning to God and our turning to one another,” Brady said. “God has given us Himself, and He has given us one another. In the midst of our grief, let us turn to these gifts from God.”
Following the arrest of Pittman, Dockery said in a statement that “this tragedy, involving two Union University commuter students, in incredibly devastating and saddening news.
“Understanding that an arrest is not the same thing as a conviction, we now need to let the judicial process run its course. Union University continues to cooperate with authorities. …
“During this difficult time, words motivated by hatred or judgment are not helpful to anyone. I want to encourage us to pray for all the families connected to this tragedy. Let us ask for God’s wisdom, comfort, help, and mercy during the days and weeks to come.”
The funeral service for Greenlee was held Feb. 16 at her home church, First Baptist in Dyersburg.
Counselors are available for students mourning the loss of Greenlee. In addition to four Union counselors, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s disaster relief team sent five counselors last week to help minister to the Union community.
TBC staff member Tony Rankin also arranged for 10 licensed counselors to be on the Union campus this week to continue lending support to the Union family as well churches in the area touched by this tragedy, said Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director-treasurer.
“Since the tragic events of last Wednesday we’ve been in constant contact with leadership at Union,” Davis noted.
“I’d like to ask our network of churches across Tennessee to join me in continuing to pray for the precious families affected by the tragic death of Olivia as well as Dr. Dockery, staff, and faculty, and Union University students as they go through this time of deep grief and unimaginable sorrow,” Davis added.