On Monday, Dec.11, 2017, the Social Justice Ministry of Charlotte Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) joined at least nine other faith communities in Vermont in hosting vigils called #endgunviolence. These vigils were held on or around the 5th anniversary of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, with the awareness that since Newtown there have been many more mass shootings in the United States. We began our vigil by lighting candles and praying in silence for 45 minutes. We then gathered for a group conversation where we:
- lamented the violence,
- wondered together how we came to this pattern of violence in our country,
- observed how seldom we manage to actually listen to one another about the topic of guns and gun violence,
- named how hard it is in conversations about gun violence to move beyond binary talking points,
- named the strong resistance by many to even consider new gun laws,
- expressed outrage, fear, anger and sadness,
- questioned the usefulness of vigils,
- celebrated how our faith as followers of Jesus Christ provides us with the community, the energy and the vision we need to work for change over the long-term,
- called one another to connect, contact our legislators, and to act,
- longed for the end of violence in general and gun violence in particular, and
- ended our time in group prayer and by lighting the night outside the church as our witness to both the reality of gun violence and our resistance to it.
I am proud to have been part of this vigil. I am proud to be part of both a church community and a wider community that are willing to host such an event. At the same time, though, I am mindful that we need more than vigils. How many vigils were held after Newtown? How many were held before? Still… still…still…mass shooting after mass shooting occurs in this country.
As a country boy who learned to shoot when I was five and whose first job was setting trap at a gun club, I am not OK with that. Whoever you are, whatever your background and however you vote, you are not OK with that. Those in favor of more gun regulation and those who adamantly oppose it are not OK with that. And yet, at the risk of sounding preachy, I will observe that after each shooting we seem content to mourn, weep, and be outraged and to give into the feeling that it’s all beyond our control.
The truth is, gun violence is not beyond our control; it’s just beyond our current will to end it. Until that changes, I will attend vigils. Until that changes, I will pray, talk and lament. Until that changes, I will use my ears and my voice to help change the violence that is, into the just peace that can be. Until that changes, I will work to #endgunviolence, and I invite you to do the same.
Kevin Goldenbogen is the senior pastor at the Charlotte Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.