But for 75 minutes early Sunday morning on June 28, about 1500 Episcopalians took their witness outside. We joined God in the neighborhood as we claimed common ground against gun violence. The ongoing chants through the city streets, the testimonies from shooting victims (one of whom was host Bishop Hayashi) and retired police officers (now a transitional deacon and diocesan bishop, respectively), the prayers, the solidarity – and the numbers of people, were moving and powerful. Not to mention Presiding-Bishop elect Curry’s passionate refutation of the “unholy trinity” of poverty, racism and gun violence through the Gospel Trinity which promises hope, reconciliation and peace.
It was a good start.
Later that evening about 40 people gathered to talk about next steps: how to build on the witness and momentum of the morning, and bring it back to our congregations, communities and dioceses. We talked in pairs about what we learned and how we were inspired; and then we made some commitments going forward. We have captured that information and will soon have it available.
There are four distinct areas that we agreed to pursue: advocacy, public witness, education and communication. From the energy and impact of the morning march, I feel particularly drawn to public witness. Good Friday was mentioned as a unique opportunity for public witness: carrying out the Stations of the Cross in the neighborhood and connecting the story of Jesus’ violent death with the violence in our communities; at the same time blessing the places with hope and healing – and doing it in partnership with the police department.
“Memorial to the Lost” is an opportunity to participate in Gun Violence Sabbath weekend (December 11-13, Advent 2) by hanging T-shirts on poles outside the church which contain the names and dates of people in the town, city or county whose lives have been taken by gun violence – and then concluding the Sunday service outside with a blessing at the base of the poles. Public witness and worship carries the symbolic capacity of transforming lives and inspiring commitment, with the ultimate intention of reducing gun violence.
We will keep at it – with witness, education, advocacy and communication. We are becoming better stewards of the gifts of power and love, which must always be joined together. As Martin Luther King pointed out years ago, separating power and love is not only contrary to the Gospel – it can end up being dangerous: “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting anything that stands against love.”
Bishop Mark Beckwith
Diocese of Newark