The call came last month, just four days after Jim Norton-DiBenedetto was murdered.
The plea did not go unchallenged.
At his open, meeting-like weekly sermon at God’s Morning Star Baptist Church on Wednesday evening, Norton-DiBenedetto had another half-dozen empty chair seats to fill.
The Rev. Norton-DiBenedetto was gunned down outside his Kelowna home Feb. 4, leaving behind his wife, Candace and three young children. No suspects have been publicly identified.
But less than a week after the charismatic pastor was killed, his parishioners have rallied around his family, a step that has the North Okanagan community and several of his 300-plus faithful calling on one another to help in whatever way they can.
“I felt very threatened, especially after the killing of Jim,” said Grace Teon, who has volunteered in services since 2001. “We have to be there for each other.”
Throughout the week, the 30-member congregation has been offering rides to the doctor and grocery shopping. After church Wednesday night, a rescheduled “reunification service” was also held at the church.
Unarmed but deadly: Murdered pastor gave his life protecting family of four; He was killed during armed robbery on Feb. 4. Find out more: https://t.co/lWZPdUX39b https://t.co/BRGcr0LCnp — OKANAGAN NEWS (@NewsOKANAGAN) February 10, 2016
Norton-DiBenedetto’s death comes just weeks after the violent death of Paula Merino, a former RCMP officer who was killed during an armed robbery in her Okanagan hometown on Jan. 21.
Merino’s husband, Al, has also been thrust into the role of father figure since his wife’s death, and spoke at a candlelight vigil last Friday night.
“He was born and raised here. He’s been a police officer for years. But he was a husband, a father,” said Const. Lloyd White of the town of Crescent Lake. “To lose one of our own was devastating. It’s difficult.”
No family and friends attend services at God’s Morning Star. But in recent weeks, the congregation has changed over. The predominantly white congregation is full of citizens who are black, Latin, Chinese, Filipino and Indian.
The litany of sorrow and prayers on the notice board outside the main entrance to the church that Wednesday evening was particularly stark.
“I just want to give a big ‘No 1’ to (the gunman),” read one letter. “I don’t care what colour he is. What he did was morally wrong.”
The message included a list of phone numbers for help, including the Kelowna detachment of the RCMP and social services.
Some were too traumatized to speak on the record, but said they know the girl who was robbed of a late-night doughnut in the same grocery store at the end of Norton-DiBenedetto’s murder.
Another writer pleaded: “My heart bleeds. Your family deserves to be spared.”
Several members said they will look to Norton-DiBenedetto’s legacy and vowed to continue to help each other out.
“He died doing what he loved,” said Al Merino, his voice shaking. “We’re going to pray, we’re going to do this and I’m going to ask everyone to do whatever they can.”
On Thursday, a special memorial service will be held for Norton-DiBenedetto at The Olympic Centre, with prime minister Justin Trudeau in attendance.
Brent Dahl was one of nearly 100 members of his congregation who showed up to services last week. The man he says was one of the most compassionate, loving pastors he’s ever met was gunned down mere metres from his own home.
“He touched a lot of people,” said Dahl. “How can I be angry now?”