Another shooting, another community wounded

Bishop Fisher addresses those assembled at the vigil for Meaghan Burns at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew, Greenfield, MA.
PHOTO: submitted

Meaghan Burns and her family are members of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield, MA. I confirmed her in 2014. Meaghan joined the Navy and was out with a Navy friend who had recently broken up with a boyfriend. When they left the restaurant, the boyfriend shot and killed Meaghan and her friend and then himself. Meaghan was 23 years old.

The Burns family and the parish of Sts James and Andrew have long been active in the movement to address the public health crisis of gun violence. In honor of Meaghan they organized a Gun Violence Prevention Vigil and invited me to speak. Hundreds of people came to the vigil. The family has given us permission to publish my brief remarks at the event for the sake of raising consciousness of this crisis.

My name is Doug Fisher and I serve as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. I was blessed to confirm Meaghan five years ago.I’m here to grieve with you and pray to our God who loves us in life and in death and in New Life. I’m here to tell you that all of our 51 churches in western and central Massachusetts are praying for Carolyn and Matthew and Kylie and James.

The Burns’ family and this Church have long been engaged in calling for action to prevent gun violence that is so rampant in our beloved country. They organized this vigil and asked me to address the public health crisis of gun violence.

It is not my first inclination at a time such as this. This is a time for celebrating the brief but joyful, kind, always energetic life of Meaghan. And in a few minutes family friend and UCC minister Will is going to do that.

My second inclination is to stand in silent support with you, Meaghan’s family and friends. Silence because words are inadequate to express our grief. Silence because words are inadequate to express the support we want to offer. 

But Meaghan’s parents have told me we have had too much silence in the face of the massive problem of gun violence in the United States. Let’s honor their wishes and break the silence.

97 people a day die from gun violence in our country. Over 35,000 a year. And many more are injured. This often is described as a political issue. But it is not. It is a public health crisis. If 97 people a day were dying of a disease, wouldn’t we all – Republican and Democrat and Independent address it? Wouldn’t we put all manner of resources to discover the sources and the cure? Yes, this problem is complicated. But should we fail to address it because it is complicated? Should we allow complexity to paralyze us?

Last week Carolyn met with Reverend Heather to talk and pray. She recalled vigils here in this church about gun violence and how candles were lit and names of the deceased were read. She said “My Meaghan is now one of these candles.”

But Meaghan is not a number. She is our beloved daughter, sister, friend. You will all develop ways of honoring Meaghan and her Spirit in a life cut short. The Burns family invites you to honor Meaghan by thoughts and prayers and more – by taking action.

Just a few days ago in Boston, Episcopalians organized  the annual March for Peace on Mother’s Day. Hundreds of mothers and others marched to witness to the losses we have suffered through gun violence. Placards were held high with names of those who have died in this crisis. Some of those placards had the name ‘Meaghan Burns” on them.

In the past year, thousands of young people have turned out for the March for Our Lives. Some younger than our Meaghan. They are survivors of school shootings and young people who have witnessed daily gun violence in urban neighborhoods. All saying we want a different future. A future where we don’t have to leave in fear. Would you, to honor Meaghan, join them?

And will you call our legislators to demand universal background checks, and closing loopholes in gun sales, and making assault weapons illegal and advocating for “smart gun technology”? Will you be willing to honor Meaghan in that way?

We remember another who died by violence – Jesus. And our God raised him up and showed us that love is stronger than death. Death cannot stop God’s love for us and the life God gives us eternally. And your love for Meaghan is stronger than her death. May Meaghan Rest In Peace and Rise in Glory. Amen.


Resources for the Prevention of Gun Violence