As the list of Americans who are killed or wounded by gunfire grows longer every day, Bishop Mariann Budde and the Diocese of Washington have intensified their efforts to prevent and raise awareness of gun violence. Through preaching, speaking at public forums, organizing vigils, promoting interfaith dialog and advocating for gun safety legislation, local Episcopalians are attempting to do their part in curtailing the killing.
“I think there is so much fear in the world, and it can be tempting to think that having a weapon can save us, but as Christians, we know that’s not true; our salvation comes from God,” said the Rev. Justi Schunior, associate rector at St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill. “And so we have a calling — on the one hand, to be voices of courage in the world that say our love is bigger than fear, and on the other hand, we need to create an environment of peace and love and justice, and you can’t have that environment if people are armed to the teeth.”
Here’s a look at some of the recent anti-gun violence efforts within the diocese.
St. Mark’s hosts National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence
Last night, St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill, was one of hundreds of sites across the nation to participate in the annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence. It was the kickoff event for the Dec. 10-13 National Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend, which organizers say is designed “to remember those who have lost their lives to gunfire, pray for those whose lives have been forever changed because of the loss of a loved one, and to educate one another on proven strategies to reduce gun violence.”
Sponsors of the national initiative are the Newtown Foundation and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. The event, which was based last year at the National Cathedral, is held near the date of the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adult staff members were fatally shot.
More than 300 people signed up to attend the vigil at St. Mark’s, including families of victims from all over the country who also planned to meet with their elected officials to encourage support for legislation to prevent gun violence.
Schunior has taken the lead in anti-gun violence efforts at St. Mark’s, which has a long history of advocating for gun safety. Last year, St. Mark’s served as a base of operations and a place of refreshment for advocates who met with members of Congress during the second annual National Vigil for All Gun Violence Victims. Among other activities this year, in April St. Mark’s hosted a quilting bee for DC Moms Demand Action, the local chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. At the bee, family members of victims of gun violence, St. Mark’s parishioners and others made blocks for Moms’ Dream Quilt project.
Bishop, clergy participate in interfaith, anti-gun violence vigil in Silver Spring
On Friday, December 4, Episcopalians helped lead an interfaith, anti-gun violence vigil at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. The vigil was held in response to the shootings in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 victims and their two assailants dead and more than 20 people wounded. The Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsored the vigil in partnership with other faith leaders.
After the vigil, Bishop Mariann said, “I’m proud to stand with both clergy and lay people from our diocese as well as people of faith from around Montgomery County and beyond, to pray with our Muslim neighbors and friends, to assure them that we are with them and understand that their plight now in America, as we try to get our arms around what is happening with gun violence, is particularly precarious.”
“If we could limit the access to guns so much of the violence would be minimized,” she said. “I can’t think of anything more important for us to be working on right now as people of faith.”
The Rev. Terri Murphy, deacon and director of religious education at Church of Ascension in Silver Spring, spoke at the vigil. “All day long a segment, a sentence, of my scripture has been rolling around in my head, and that is ‘Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God,’” she said. “The reason I don’t despair is that right now I’m looking at the peace makers. You give me hope.”
Murphy, who devotes much of her ministry to interfaith understanding, said “putting an end to hate language is key to ending violence, including gun violence. If you change the language, you change the behavior.”
“One of the things that grew out of the vigil was that we had two young Muslim couples and a Jewish woman who want to create an interfaith social group so they can learn about each other and have fun together,” Murphy said. “It’s really hard to hate a friend.”
National Cathedral continues anti-violence efforts
At the National Cathedral last month, faith leaders from across the religious spectrum gathered with activists, politicians and survivors of gun violence for a program entitled United to Stop Gun Violence.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, has been active for decades in efforts to reduce gun violence. “As hard as this work is —and it is hard — it continues to be the most vital public health issue facing our nation,” he said. “We will not go away. We will not give up.”
In June the cathedral worked with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a coalition of over 50 national faith groups and organizations, to launch the “Tale of Two States: Handgun Purchaser Licensing Saves Lives” campaign. The initiative, which focuses on the differing experiences of Connecticut and Missouri after they made changes in their gun laws, was unveiled during an event at the cathedral. It is intended to educate the public that handgun purchaser licensing is an effective way to save lives.