In the spirit of forgiveness, several local Episcopal churches have offered to host a funeral for Douglas Franklin Jones, the man Howard County police say fatally shot a rector and a church administrator at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City before killing himself in nearby woods.
"A couple of churches thought it would be nice to offer their space," said Sharon Tillman, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. "It's up to [his] family whether they will take it or not."
Tillman declined to name the parishes that have offered their space for Jones' funeral or when the offers were made.
Jones' family had "neither accepted nor declined" the offer as of late Wednesday, she said.
The Rev. Richard Ginnever, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia, said the clergy in the area were in "sensitive conversations" with Jones' family but declined to say whether his parish was involved in those conversations.
"Those are things that we'll keep between the churches and the family," Ginnever said. "We as Episcopal clergy here have offered to help everyone as much as possible."
It's that collective approach to the tragedy at St. Peter's, Ginnever and others said, that is holding the local Episcopal community together.
"We're working as a team with this," said the Rev. Carol Pinkham Oak, rector of St. John's.
As part of that teamwork, St. John's parish won't be hosting Jones' funeral because it is hosting Brewington's, Oak said.
But forgiveness has already been granted to Jones, she said.
"From St. John's point of view, we see this as a tragedy, and we also see this as a homeless man who was suffering with mental illness, so with our Christian understanding, we have offered him forgiveness," Oak said. "There is still grief and sadness and anger, but that doesn't mean there can't be forgiveness."
Oak said the support that members of her congregation have shown her and each other has taught her about the connections between people and communities, and that her clerical colleagues in the area have been critical in navigating through the emotions.
"One tragedy doesn't affect just one church," she said.
The Rev. John Price, interim rector of St. Mark's Episcopal in Highland in western Howard, said his church would have been glad to host Jones' funeral, but he was told other parishes had already made the offer.
Price said members of the Episcopal community in Howard County and the surrounding area "matriculate back and forth between parishes" as they move into new jobs or homes, so many of his parishioners used to attend services at St. Peter's and vice versa.
"We're all one big family," he said.
Connections between parishes are being built from personal relationships between parishioners and through a network of people who are looking for ways to help those who need it, he said.
Those offers don't exclude Jones' family, Price said.
"We can't rewrite history," he said, "but we can certainly be deeply compassionate to all those involved."