Clergy, lay leaders gather to bear witness to gun violence

July 10, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] About two dozen clergy and lay leaders gathered the evening of July 9 at the 79thGeneral Convention to bear witness to the gun violence they have experienced in their lives, share their frustration at the inability to curb the death tolls from guns and listen for steps they can take to end gun deaths and injuries.

The gathering, sponsored by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, came a day after Philip and April Schentrup, Episcopalians whose daughter Carmen was one of 17 students and educators killed by a gunman at Parkland, Florida’s, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, shared their gut-wrenching testimony with the bishops and several hundred onlookers at Brush Square Park. The Schentrup family was joined on stage by Abigail Zimmerman, a ninth-grader and Episcopalian from Waco, Texas, who co-led a school walkout in March in response to the massacre, urged everyone “to make change happen.”

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

With their chairs arranged in a large circle, participants in the networking session shared whichever comments they wished to make about gun violence. They came from a variety of backgrounds – clergy, social workers, activists, a seminary dean, a retired U.S. Special Forces sergeant, a retired school principal.

Some talked about growing up with guns in their households or shared memories about those they’ve known who have been killed by guns. Others mentioned that they work in rural regions where guns are a way of life. Many were at a loss as to what they could do to put a stop to the violence. A suggestion to repeal the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution drew applause from several.

“I can’t say where I’m called to address gun violence, but I can say I want to come to the table,” said the Rev. Michelle Walker, alternate deputy from Northern Indiana.

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas shared his experience at serving in a state where gun manufacturing is a major industry. “When I moved to Connecticut, I didn’t realize guns would be so much part of my conversations on both sides,” he said.

He said Connecticut is the original home of the Colt revolver. A parish within his diocese is supported by a Colt endowment, and many parishioners in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut are involved in the gun manufacturing industry, he said. “How do I pastor in that circumstance?” he asked.

As the gathering wrapped up, Douglas encouraged everyone to take steps to end gun violence, whether preaching from the pulpit, writing letters to elected officials, penning pieces for publication or simply witnessing to others about gun violence.

Rebecca Wilson of Canticle Communications, which is helping coordinate the work of Bishops Against Gun Violence, shared several resources for those interested in learning more about ways to prevent gun violence. These include Bishops United Against Gun Violence, Episcopalians Against Gun Violence Facebook page and the Cross Lobby Twitter .

– Mike Patterson is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. He is a member of ENS General Convention reporting team and can be reached at rmp231@gmail.com.