As expected, the first day of business for General Convention was very full with prayer and voting on resolutions. So much voting. And serious dialog about key issues in our Church. As we will do everyday, our WMA delegation met at lunch time to discuss what was going on in the House of Bishops and in the House of Deputies. We shared insights, wisdom, prayer and humor.
What touched my soul the most on this day were two prayerful witnesses against the plague of gun violence. (Bishops United Against Gun Violence used to call it “the public health crisis of gun violence.” Now in our country, with 400 million guns and averaging more than 110 deaths by gun everyday, “public health crisis” is an inadequate description.)
In the early afternoon, the bishop and deputies of Alabama solemnly gathered at the podium. On June 16th, three members of their St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills had been shot and killed by a man with a gun who came to their monthly potluck supper for Baby Boomers. Several people at the supper extended hospitality and kindness to a stranger who sat alone. And then he opened fire and was stopped by a hero who threw him to the ground until police arrived.
A resolution was proposed and accepted which read in part:
“The Episcopal Church recognizes and honors the faith and sacrifice of Walter Rainey, Sharon Yeager and Jane Pounds, whose witness demonstrated the call of God’s reconciling purposes by welcoming and eating with a stranger at a church potluck supper…we pause in lament for those who died and for the 18 in attendance who survived and mourn…That we would renew our hope in God’s call to us to embrace the stranger, show kindness to the disheartened, and forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
Honoring St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the Victims of June 16, 2022
The second event of the day concerning the plague of gun violence in our country came at the end of the afternoon legislative session. Yesterday (July 7), just two blocks from the Convention Center, in the very busy and usually peaceful Baltimore Inner Harbor, a man came out of his car with a baseball bat. He was angry at the squeegee workers who come up to the cars. As he approached them, one of the squeegee workers pulled out a gun and fatally shot him.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence led a procession of many bishops and deputies to pray at the sight. Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland mourned the person who lost his life and a society in which the poor need to turn to cleaning car windows on the street to survive. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (who served in Baltimore as a parish priest) gave a powerful call to live as Jesus lived – a man of peace and compassion. And we prayed:
BUAGV Baltimore public witness July 8, 2022
“We gather together to call to mind those who have lost their lives, their lives and their loved ones through the scourge of gun violence. We gather from different backgrounds, understandings and cultures to stand together, to dream together, to pray together, to act together. We are angry. Angry at the seeming powerlessness of our leaders and communities to prevent violence. We are tired. Tired of inaction, easy answers and superficial acts of compassion. We are sad. Sad for those who suffer in needless pain the loss of all they cherish.However, we are hopeful. Hopeful that by our prayers, our presence and our persistence, that change will one day come. We gather in vigil and prayer with so many across the nation and across the world to stand as bearers of the light of hope and the flame of peace.”
Addressing gun violence has been a big part of my ministry and yours in WMA. Two weeks after I was ordained bishop, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut happened. Mass killings everywhere in our country have increased dramatically since then, as have daily murders by gun in our cities, as well as suicides by gun. It is truly a plague.
And we follow and believe in the Prince of Peace. We follow and believe in the one who died a violent death and returned not with vengeance but offering peace and forgiveness. And as we say at evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”The Book of Common Prayer, p. 101
Reducing gun violence in a country addicted to guns, with politicians addicted to getting votes, sometimes seems impossible. But we gather and witness like we did twice today. We pray as we did today. And when we leave this place, we will advocate over and over and over again. And we believe in God “working in US, who can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”