Prayer vigil held to honor David Shankles

Madelin Ryan, News Producer, Viking Fusion

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Students, faculty and staff gathered in the College Chapel on Tuesday to remember and honor David Shankles.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Berry community was notified of the unexpected death of sophomore David Shankles.

Shankles grew up in Knoxville, Tenn. At Berry, he was a part of the cross-country team, the track and field team and Young Life. He was a biology major with a pre-medicine concentration. 

Just two hours after the news broke, hundreds gathered in the College Chapel for a prayer vigil in remembrance of him and to join as a community in support of each other. 

As 5 p.m. neared, the campus went quiet in respect for the beloved student, teammate and friend. All that could be heard was the sound of cleats on pavement as the football team stopped practice and walked together to the service in a straight line from Valhalla Stadium to the College Chapel.

As the service started, the sun shone directly behind the steeple and created a silhouette. Then, a small rainbow formed just above the chapel, disappearing at the cross on the very top of the steeple. Now, only a few birds could be heard chirping outside.

Walking into the chapel, there was a sense of heaviness. Some mourned the loss of a friend and some became emotional over the death of a classmate, someone their age.

Berry College Chaplain Jonathan Huggins started off by stating that it was a time to grieve, pray, hug and absorb the shocking news together. 

“There are no great words to say right now but there are some great works to read,” Huggins said. 

He then read Psalms 34:18, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (ESV).”

The sunlight filled the chapel and warmed the audience while David Elmer, assistant professor of kinesiology, led everyone in singing hymns. 

Huggins then prompted a silent prayer for Shankles’ family. With heads bowed and arms around each other, the chaplain led a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. 

Although not everyone at Berry is a Christian, almost every person in the chapel chanted the prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV) with the hundreds of attendees. Then, Huggins opened the floor for anyone who wanted to speak. 

A man in the back stood up and as he walked to the front, some began to cry and hold each other as they realized it was Shankles’ cross-country and track and field coach at Berry, Luke Syverson.

Syverson began by saying, “One of the things that those of you who knew David will know and appreciate was his sense of living life to the fullest.” He then recalled coaching two of Shankles’ brothers at Lipscomb University. After knowing his brothers, Syverson knew he wanted Shankles on the team.

Syverson said he equated Shankles to a lifelike version of Curious George. 

“Last year one of the stories that kind of fit David was getting a call that he had gotten in trouble–which is odd because David would never get in trouble, he would never do anything outright bad,” Syverson said. “So, I hear that he got in trouble because he was exploring some unknown caverns. He was curious but in a fun, loving way.”

As the coach shared his memories, the audience laughed along with him as they celebrated the love for life that Shankles had. 

Syverson began to tear up as he finished with this statement, “The thing that I take with me from the opportunity to get to know David was how much he loved life. How much he was Berry. He fit this campus to a ‘t’ and he will leave a big hole on our campus and especially on our team. What David would want everyone to take away from this is to make the most out of every opportunity and to live life to its fullest.”

He closed by asking for prayers for the Shankles family considering how tightly knit and strong in their faith they were. 

“They know where David’s at and I want you to know that too and the hope we have in Christ,” said Syverson.

As the coach returned to his seat, the chapel erupted with applause. 

Chaplain Huggins asked the audience to stand together and embrace each other. Everyone broke out into hugs, reaching over pews and crossing aisles to support each other. 

Huggins closed with this benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord grant you his favor and peace, especially now and always. Amen.”

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