A Pastoral Letter from the Rector

ASEP The Rector's Blog

Dear All Saints –

You may have heard me tell this story before, but it is much on my mind today. On December 14, 2012, I was finishing final exams for my last fall semester at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT. New Haven is about 25 miles from Newtown. What I knew of Newtown before that day was that a couple of classmates were doing their required parish internships there. After that day, Newtown became known by a different name: Sandy Hook, the elementary school where a gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of six and seven.

My memories of that day before returning home for winter break include the debate over whether to toll the chapel bell 26 or 28 times (to include the shooter and his mother). I wanted to include everyone. “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God,” Paul wrote in Romans 8, and that includes those who have perpetrated unspeakable violence.

The other thing I most remember is that I was preaching that Sunday at my home church, and my carefully crafted sermon on the word “rejoice” had to be reworked, because who could rejoice when so many families were in mourning? As the photos of these little 1st graders began to flood our newspapers and TV and computer screens, what words could even be said?

Over the past two weeks, 31 people have died in horrific mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. 19 more children met a violent end because we simply cannot, as a nation, reject our addiction to guns and to power. The two go hand in hand. Gun manufacturers, lobbyists, and those in their pockets will blame anything rather than looking in the mirror. And the killing continues.

As I write this, I have spent a good part of my day so far contacting my representatives both in New Jersey and in Washington. I have made contributions to organizations mobilized to promote reasonable and sensible gun legislation. And I have prayed a lot.

I worry about our families with young children. I worry about the People of Color who sit in our church and live in our community. Where are we safe? Instead of making significant changes in gun access since Sandy Hook, we have transferred the burden to our children and their teachers who must have lockdown and active shooter drills, just in case. We propose armed security and single-entry buildings and do nothing to address the real issues. In the Church, we call that evil. We call that sin.

In the prayer of confession, we pray 

…we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

And then we add

        We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

Well, if that were really true, if we were sorry and humbly and contrite, we would have changed course. That’s what repentance means. Change course and make things right.

The photo of the top ten members of this year’s graduating class at Uvalde High School broke my heart. It broke my heart for the 19 children who will never reach graduation; for their families who will have their children’s images frozen in time in their 4th grade school photos; and for these promising young people whose high school graduation will forever be joined with this horror that came to their community.

What is it that turned two other 18-year-olds into angry, disaffected killers instead of marching in graduation with their classmates? So many factors go into this, but certainly online hate groups and easy access to military-style weapons contributed.  I cannot diagnose why these young men saw fit to vent their rage on children and African Americans, but somewhere along the way, they missed the message that they are loved, that God loves them, that there is a community surrounding them with support and care, and that we are all part of one human family. And this, too is heartbreaking.

In the trauma that follows a mass shooting, we should also remember that more than 30,000 people die every year from gun violence, as many as 2/3 of them by suicide. We don’t just need to save our neighbors from the random mass shooter. We need to save all those we love.

God of Justice, help us, your church, find our voice. Turn us from the worship of power. Give us courage to confront our false gods and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Help us rise above our dread that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to advocate for change. 

For your dream of a world where children are safe and all of us live together without fear, Loving God
Make us instruments of your peace. 

All this we pray in the name of the One who offered his life so that we might live, Jesus the Christ. Amen.*

With love, prayers, and blessings for all of you,

*The conclusion of a litany written by the Bishop Stephen T. Lane of Maine

ASEPA Pastoral Letter from the Rector