Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and First United Church of Oak Park offer models for others
by Presbyterian Peace Fellowship | Special to Presbyterian News Service
STONY POINT, New York — As the United States approaches the anniversary of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship announced this week that its 2019 Peaceseeker Award honors Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and First United Church of Oak Park, both in the Chicago metropolitan area, for exemplary ministries to prevent future gun violence.
“These two congregations are forging a way out of the grief and fear that we all feel because of gun violence,” said Rev. Emily Brewer, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. “Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and First United Church of Oak Park give us hope. They give examples of what we all can do — and what countless other congregations are starting to do. They embody what peace seeking means in our country today and we are honored to celebrate them with this award.”
The purpose of the Peaceseeker Award is to honor and share the stories of those who offer outstanding examples of how to put the love, courage and nonviolence of Jesus Christ to work in the world today. Beginning with the first Peaceseeker Award in 1970 to then Presbyterian Stated Clerk William P. Thompson, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has recognized diverse award recipients, ranging from Presbyterian pastor Fred Rogers in 1994 to climate change divestment leader abby mohaupt (who prefers her name lowercase) in 2017. The 2019 joint award will be presented to the two congregations during the 224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Baltimore in June 2020.
Located about an hour apart in Chicago, the Lincoln Park and Oak Park churches represent different ways of being church. One is a small congregation with the daring to embody a large ministry and one is a large congregation filled with community leaders who are willing to take risks for change. They share an innate compassion and creativity in their approach to gun violence prevention. Both utilize the power of the visual impact of memorials to those who have died from gun violence. Creativity, community and compassion bind them together. Their stories are amazing, an inspiration and a road map for others.
Almost 40 years ago, a member of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church led an effort for churches to receive handguns that people would surrender with no questions asked, the first-known Presbyterian congregation to take a stand against gun violence. Today the 65-member Lincoln Park Church sponsors a vigil and memorial to young gun violence victims along the Chicago Marathon route. They work to undo the impact of racism in the lack of jobs and housing that contributes to gun violence. And the Lincoln Park church urges its members to advocate for eliminating gun violence in legislative settings and in election years, with programs to register voters and to encourage everyone to vote.
Across the Windy City, First United Church of Oak Park is a large congregation on the edge of a neighborhood with a gun violence epidemic. After an education series on gun violence, First United joined coalitions to work on issues from urging gun makers to use smart technology to prevent the use of stolen guns to pioneering new ways to talk together about race and racism. Following the ideas of Fred Rogers, they help the children of the church to process feelings about gun violence and participate in actions. On Palm Sunday 2018, following the March for Our Lives, members dressed in orange T-shirts processed around the sanctuary not just with palms, but with March for Our Lives signs.
See a clip of that Sunday’s protest procession here.
With nearly 40,000 United States citizens dying from gun violence each year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has urged its members to study and engage in dialogue and action on ways to prevent the growing epidemic of gun violence from murders, suicides, mass shootings, accidents, police shootings and family violence. For more than 50 years, the denomination has supported federal and state action on measures such as universal background checks, starting in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When asked what advice they would give to congregations just starting out on gun violence prevention ministry, Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and First United Church of Oak Park both gave the same answer: “Don’t be afraid. God is on your side. We all need to move ahead on this issue.” Sherlynn Reid, a member of First United, added, “If your church can’t get out of being afraid, do it anyway and bring others with you. You get strength from each other.”
Congregations that need help with studying, talking together and acting gun violence prevention can contact Rev. Deanna Hollas, coordinator of Gun Violence Prevention Ministries of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) at firstname.lastname@example.org. A gun violence prevention toolkit is available here.
For more information about Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, contact Brewer at email@example.com.
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