Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
They were doing what Christians have done since the earliest days of the church: They were gathered for a potluck. A potluck evokes images of fellowship and great food. At St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, AL, the joy of a potluck supper was shattered when an attendee pulled out a handgun and began to shoot, killing two people and injuring another before being subdued by another attendee. Please join me in praying for the people of St. Stephen’s, especially for those who were at the potluck; for the woman still in the hospital; and for their clergy, especially their rector as he works to return from a parish pilgrimage in Greece.
The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Bridges, Associate Rector for Formation & Outreach at St. Stephen’s, wrote in a reflection for the parish:
“This is a space that we associate with love and joy and community—wedding receptions, Vacation Bible School, bingo and movie nights, guest lectures, Sunday Forums, Wednesday night dinners, the ECW Tea. Now this same space will also be linked in our minds with a time of fear and chaos and sorrow. What are we to do? How are we to go on? As one of your priests, I do not know what to say in the face of all of this deep sadness, but I am praying for the words this morning as I write to you from far away—and looking toward being reunited to walk together through this time of collective grieving and healing.”
My heart is so troubled that gun violence has once again turned a place of worship into a place of violence and death. I pray that we all may have our hearts moved to action in both word and deed. I found this prayer by the Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia, to speak eloquently the deep sorrow and anger we all feel as our sisters and brothers at St. Stephen’s cope with this tragedy. I have included her prayer below and commend it to you. You will also find links to pastoral letters from St. Stephen’s rector and associate rector, as well as from Presiding Bishop Curry.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace,
A Prayer in the face of the continuing and uniquely American plague of gun violence
By the Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff
God of Peace
God of Justice
Giver of Life,
We mourn, we lament, we rage
as the scourge of gun violence
in our land continues unabated,
as the uniquely American
plague of gun violence slaughters
our siblings, our parents, our children.
Just last evening it struck in an Episcopal Church
during a potluck supper.
Many in the Diocese of Virginia
know the rector and people of
St. Stephen’s in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
We know how they gathered last night
when random and senseless violence
changed their world.
We know because we gather as they did
to enjoy the ordinary ministry of community.
Every time the sin and evil
of gun violence strikes,
we are traumatized again.
because those killed and injured
are our family.
They are us.
God, we mourn, we lament, we rage.
We organize and march.
We write our Senators and Congress members.
We go to Washington and meet with them in person.
We engage the legislative process and the gun lobby
through Bishops United Against Gun Violence,
our Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations
and the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
We adopt General Convention resolutions.
We wear orange stoles and orange clothes
as a sign of our commitment.
We gather and vote and listen and learn.
And we pray. Oh, how we pray.
For hope. For faith.
For an end to this brutal bloodshed.
And still so little seems to change.
We feel helpless in the face of a culture
that chooses the right of an individual to bear arms,
any and all arms without restriction,
over the right of all people to life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.
We fall prey to hopelessness
when members of our human family
are slaughtered day after day, week after week.
But we are not helpless.
We are not without hope.
We hope in you, powerful God, to turn the tide,
To help us turn the tide of public opinion at last.
To turn the tide of what we Americans will tolerate.
To turn the tide of our uniquely American
love affair with guns into a love affair with life.
To turn the tide as we make distinctions between
gun ownership and gun violence
so that this scourge will end at last.
Save us from helplessness.
Save us from hopelessness.
Teach us how to be your partner
in turning the tide
for the sake of Life.
Find Mother Becky’s message here. She includes several links to resources about grief and lament that will be helpful to us all.
The Rev. John Burruss, Rector of St. Stephen’s, wrote a pastoral letter to his community, saying to the inevitable question, what can we do?
“We can pray and we can gather. People have gathered as followers of Christ for 2000 years because of the belief that God’s outstretched arms can reach all of humanity through pain and the most unfathomable loss. We gather because we know that love is the most powerful force in this world, and tonight, and in the days, months, and years that come, will hold onto that truth to know that Christ’s love will always shine.”
Read his letter here.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, shared this message as he prepared to attend a memorial at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, on the anniversary of that shooting where 9 people were killed during bible study at the church.
Read the message here.