When the pastor’s tragedy becomes the headline

My son Chris is believed to have gone into the Mississippi River somehow. He has been missing since Tuesday evening and it is now Saturday morning and I don’t know where he is. It’s in the newspapers, on the radio, on television news and, of course, all over my own Facebook page and on the pages of friends, family, and even those who are just touched by this tragedy.

I never thought that I would use this page to write this post. Of course I didn’t, because who ever thinks you will be that poor mother whose son is missing? I suppose in some ways our experience is a little different from most others who have experienced something like this. I’m a very public person, both because of my call as pastor and because of my activism and because that’s just how I am.

And Chris and Austin and I have a community around us that is so incredibly supportive and loving. And for this I will be eternally grateful.

And we have a God who is holding us right now.

People come to me and sit with me and they express themselves in so many different ways. They bring food. I have more food in my house now than I ever have. I don’t really like grocery shopping and I’m not too much of a cook. Some have given me money. Some have written poetry. So many have shared our story, cried with us, prayed with us, mourned and grieved with us, sung with us, opened their hearts to us.

People tell me they don’t know what to say to me. They don’t have words. And I tell them it’s okay because I don’t know what to say to me, either.

We pastors like to control things, even though we pray for God’s will to be done and those of us in a 12-step program of any kind know to let go and let God. We are usually the ones there in the midst of someone else’s tragedy. We don’t really know how to be the one with the tragedy who needs to accept help and to reach out and accept others’ offers of food, prayer, company.

But what else can I do but let go and let God and let others be by my side? There is no other.

The night this happened, there were a few police officers who did not handle this situation as they should have. They wouldn’t give me any information at first. They kept transferring me from precinct to precinct, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It was really just a couple of people. One sergeant hung up on me. I don’t know all the police protocol, but I’m quite certain this is not in their field guide.

So I posted my anguish about the lack of communication on Facebook. I tweeted it. And friends advocated for me. They know who they are. I know who some of them are. For their intervention, I will forever be grateful. I do want to especially thank my friend Emilia. She “gets shit done” as I think she might say. Well, that’s what I say about her. When she read my story, she wrote this to some elected officials:

…yesterday, Chris, the loved son of Reverend Melissa Melnick fell in the waters of the Mississippi River and has not being found. The Minneapolis PD, the Park police are giving the run around to Chris’ mother transferring her from one place to another or hanging up on her. This is a mother trying to find her son, a young man that also cared so much about a better Minneapolis. Who showed up for other people, immigrants, Black Lives, water, poor and displaced people. A young man that was waking up to a world that he understood he had to fight for if he wanted his generations to enjoy. The community that love and care for Reverend Melnick and her family are deeply saddened and praying hard so that Chris can be found. What much more inhumane than denying a mother updates about her son? Please, #findChris

At the same time, there were some people from Water Patrol from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office that decided to intervene, even though this case is not in their control, to figure out who it was that needed to be speaking to me. And a kind person from Dispatch called me. And so many friends called. The Mayor of Minneapolis intervened and my Council Member Lisa Bender called me. And other lifelong friends made contacts with people they know. And my sister contacted the press. And then authorities started paying attention and communicating.

Chris and I both care a lot about justice and equity. I am very aware, and Chris would be, too, that many people are treated this way. And usually it’s just one or two people that are the gatekeepers or the “bad apple” as they like to say. The difference is, and here is one thing about privilege, that we were heard and seen. There are lots of families out there with a loved one who is missing and unanswered questions. And they might not have access like we do. So I stand beside those whose voices are not being heard and I ask you to hear them. The vast majority of the law enforcement working with us do their job and do it well every day. I plead with those who aren’t seeing or hearing the very real people missing their loved ones and who don’t have answers to open their hearts so they can see and hear the beloved family and friends of others who are missing, whether they’re “good kids” like mine or those who might struggle in some other ways. And thank you for advocating for Chris. Thank you for seeing him and for hearing me.

My family has seen some hateful and judgmental things about Chris. Just know that Chris is well-loved. I don’t care about the trolls. I pray for them. I pray they will have peace and compassion in their hearts. Please just keep love in your heart. Chris is a human being. Sinner and saint. Beloved.

Today I will go to the river to pray and some others will accompany me.

Tomorrow I will go to be with my Tapestry community at church. But tomorrow I go as a mother who happens to be a pastor instead of a pastor who happens to be a mother. Others will lead. Maybe tomorrow will be filled with joy because my baby has been found safe and sound. And maybe not.

I’m sure people are getting really tired of my frequent and sorrowful posts. Some probably would even prefer I return to my frequent political posts and arguments. And that’s okay. I’m tired of all of this, too. Take a rest. Refresh. Do the things you love to do. Say a prayer for us sometimes. Look at the river and enjoy its magnificent beauty and respect its power.

For my friends and family far away, in other cities and other countries, I hear your anguish, too, in your prayers, calls, posts, messages. Please know that I find so much comfort and strength in knowing you are praying for Chris around the world.

Know that God is with us and God is with you. Chris is a child of God and God is taking care of him. Austin, too. Their dad, too. Me, too. And you, too, my dear friend who is reading this. Peace.


19 thoughts on “When the pastor’s tragedy becomes the headline

  1. Terri Krake says:

    I am so sorry that your family is having to go through this. I will be praying too for ya’ll and Chris. May God hold him in the palm of his hand.
    And Pastor keep ignoring the trolls..


  2. Nancy Giddings says:

    I have been praying for you and Chris since it was in our prayers at chapel. You have been so filled with grace and strength. I also know that you are so blessed by the support. May God bless you and continue to carry you.


  3. Denise Rostad says:

    I am so sorry for the pain you, your family, and your friends are experiencing. I am praying for you and for those who will find Chris.


  4. Karen Alexander says:

    My heart goes out to you, Melissa. I’ve been praying since I saw the news. And I appreciate your reminder that other people are also in this situation who have not had the help you have.


  5. George Dahlman says:

    Beautifully written! Inspiring. . .comforting. . .strengthening. I have been praying for you, Chris, and your whole family. I printed your blog so that I can re-read it carefully and use it in the future. Please know that while I feel helpless to know what words to say, I am trusting that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26


  6. Heather says:

    Call me. I want to know if I can help in any way, I lost my husband last month and want to help you in any way I can.
    Heather 612-490-2018


  7. Patricia Vasicek says:

    My heart hurts for you and your concern and worry for your son….I’m a mom too and though our children grow up…they are always precious and we need them near…and to know they are doing alright. I hope and pray for you…your son and your family…and that all will be well…I know GOD is good and that He has His hand on your son. Much love to you…


  8. Lona Lyden says:

    I am one of those that do not know you or your son. Any parenting heart wrenching situation like this one causes me to hit my praying knees even if I know minimal details. Chris’ story has hit closer to home as it is a small world after all, I have personally heard about this from 5 different friends..3 are I’m Ministry, one was the dance insructor for my girls at Concordia and one is a college student sweet girl I have known forever. I appreciated your beautiful update on your son who you clearly cherish. I hope one day to meet him and also to meet you. I believe in Miracles and have literally witnessed 3 major ones. I will continue to pray for your family! I have 4 living children and one who is in Heaven so the parent in me can imagine to a small world stent said o what you are going through. I have almost 50 nieces and nephews that I am super close to as well as 2 great nephews. I taught Sunday school, confrirmation and teen group for 13 years. I am a kid nurse for 30 years and continue to be. All of my church kids and kids of my children have always had my unconditional love. My passion is babies-young adults. Not sure why I felt the need to sh
    Hare my background, I guess just trying to validate that my prayers and hopes for your family are not shallow, they are very sincere.
    Most Sincerely, Lona


  9. Hope Kurtz says:

    I am so sorry that you have been going all of this. Not knowing what has happened is the worst. I pray that the police are working on this now and hopefully investigating. I ran into the same problems when my brother disappeared in 2002…..8 days after I gave birth. I went into the 3rd precinct to report him missing (they told me I had to wait 72 hours) and they told me to go downtown. I went downtown and they had minimal interest. We posted fliers all over down, which were taken down because they have a policy against that. I called TV stations for help and was told “we don’t do that kind of story.” He was found 3 month later at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. I hope beyond hope that they have gotten better at some sort of empathy within the police department. My prayers are with you and your family.


  10. Donna Zipp says:

    Been thinking of you and our Israel trip as I received this sorrowful news. Some of us are together in Germany on a Reformation Pilgrimage currently. Please know our group will pray for you and your family and for God’s peace that passes all understanding during this time, Melissa.
    –Donna Zipp


  11. Duane Paetznick says:

    Melissa…I am praying and others at Shepherd of the Valley are praying. I’m so sorry for your pain – but thank you for sharing it with us in this post.


  12. Lona Lyden says:

    My initial reaction is to that of you as a parent and to your son whom I have heard amazing things about from reliable people. I am truly stunned at the lack of response by the police and officials. I can’t imagine trying to spend time begging and pleading with multiple departments and getting no where. That time was so vital and crucial and I would like to hear the explanation for how this situation was handled or basically wasn’t handled in a rapid response time. I can’t even fathom any one posting anything negative or hurtful on Facebook or social media. I would love to be able to contact each individual that did. It makes me question what these people have in their chests certainly not hearts of any sort. This is my part 2 response I just couldn’t not comment on these 2 issues. Continuing to pray basically without ceasing for your family.


  13. To both parents of Chris, I would like you to know I have been praying for Chris, you, your family and all His friends. I am Zach Damond-Midnight’s mom. Chris and Zach have been friends since 3rd grade and I have always loved his humor and smile. I love when all the boys came over to my house, went swimming, watched movies, played Halo, and slept over. I have very fond memories of your son. I hope they find him soon. May God hold him in his hands and protect him. I also want to thank you for letting my son sleep in Chris’s bed, they were best friends and my son Needed that. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will continue to pray for all of you.


  14. Gretchen Marble says:

    Dear Pastor Melissa,
    You and Chris are in the prayers of your partner community of faith at Shepherd of the Hills. May Chris be brought home to you soon.
    My daughters and I were with Tapestry at your Christmas gathering and enjoyed meeting Chris there as we celebrated, sang, danced, and rejoiced in the birth of our Savior.
    Your writing is beautiful and from your heart. It is a testament to faith and commitment for all of God’s children.
    In prayer and peace.
    Gretchen Marble


  15. Herbert and Leslie Hunter says:

    Hi! Leslie and I heard the latest news this evening on KARE-TV Channel 11 in regarding to the search results of Chris. We are so, so sorry for the tragic news that we heard. We want to let you know that you are still in Leslie’s and my prayers.


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