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PC(USA) staff mourns US gun violence

Chapel service offers solace through prayer, reflection, Scripture and music

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Illustration from a gun violence awareness service by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) held a solemn chapel service Wednesday in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The virtual service was led by the PC(USA) Staff Gun Violence Strategy Team and included participation by representatives of various ministries, including the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and Theology, Formation & Evangelism.

The Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, opened the service with a series of grim statistics about mass shootings in recent years. In this year alone, there have been more than 200 such incidents, he noted, and urged attendees not to become too familiar with (or desensitized by) tragedy.

The Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of Presbyterian Peacemaking, spoke during the service. Some other participants (from l-r) included Sara Lisherness, So Jung Kim, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus and the Rev. Dr. Kathy Riley. (Screenshot)

Continuing along that same theme, Simon Doong, associate for Peacemaking, lamented, “In a world of trauma and tragedy, it is difficult not to become numb. We confess that we are desensitized to the cries of our neighbors. We confess that the horror of gun violence rolls off us like water. Help us from our familiarization with pain, that it would always rouse our spirit.”

Music included a video of “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” by songstress Sharon Irving, who poured emotion into the spiritual about the sorrows and burdens of life.

Sara Lisherness, who is director of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries and interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, and So Jung Kim, TFE’s associate for Theology, read Scripture, alternating various lines from Psalm 94. “As often as I have said, ‘My foot has slipped,’ your steadfast love, O God, has upheld me,” Lisherness said.

Kim added: “God has become my stronghold. My God is my rock of refuge.”

The Rev. Dr. Kathy Riley, PDA associate for Emotional and Spiritual Care, led centering prayer and breath prayer.

During a time of reflection, attendees watched clips from “Standing Our Holy Ground,” a series of webinars that challenge the faith community to stand up against gun violence. The yearlong series, which is archived online, was produced by the Peacemaking program in collaboration with Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in 2019 and 2020.

Photo by Chip Vincent via Unsplash

The clips touched on various themes, including the importance of churches talking to children about gun violence; the connections between gun violence and other societal ills, such as misogyny and xenophobia; the importance of living in peace; and the problem with viewing gun violence prevention efforts as “anti-gun.”

One clip featured Virginia Classick, co-chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. “This movement is not ‘anti-gun,’” she said. “A major barrier to effective gun violence prevention is the constant polarizing and paralyzing false dichotomy of ‘pro-gun,’ ‘anti-gun.’ Mothers Against Drunk Driving are not ‘anti-car.’”

During prayers, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, PDA director, lifted up the names of several communities that have been impacted by mass shootings and acknowledged the spiritual uncertainty that some people might be feeling in the wake of such tragedies around the country, including in Atlanta; Indianapolis; San Jose, California; and Boulder, Colorado.

“When we take account of the tragedies in the world, it is difficult to believe there is a powerful and loving God, a God who is with us,” said Kraus. “We trust that you are a God who is patient with these doubts … Let us be empathetic with our souls, which have endured so much suffering, souls who have a right to ask deep questions of our maker.”

(Editor’s note: Some communities will observe National Gun Violence Prevention Day on Friday, June 4, and people are being encouraged to wear orange June 4-6 to honor the survivors of gun violence. Read more about gun violence prevention here.)

The PC(USA) Staff Gun Violence Strategy Team was formed after the Atlanta and Boulder shootings to discuss strategy and response to incidents of gun violence in areas of worship, education and awareness, and advocacy. The team adapted much of Wednesday’s liturgy from Black Liturgist.

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