On May 25th, just one day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, our Conference in partnership with March for Our Lives organizer Jacob Martinez, held a vigil and call to action at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. Gerry Hills, Chair of the Conference Board of Church and Society, along with myself and Jacob, worked throughout the night of May 24th and the day of May 25th to bring the vigil to reality.
In the shade of the building that houses state leadership, some 200 people gathered in prayer and listened to speakers: Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, Arizona Faith Network; Rev. Javier Olivares, West District Superintendent and Mission Strategist; Alicia Contreas from Corazon; Pastor Gina Pollard; Rep. Jennifer Longdon – herself a victim of gun violence; and Jacob Martinez.
As we know, 19 children and two teachers were senselessly gunned down by an 18-year-old, with an assault weapon. The pain for the parents and family was so much to bear – too much for the husband of one of the teachers who soon after the shooting died from a heart attack. They left four children behind, and 13 children hospitalized, though some reports indicated as many as 20.
Our speakers cited Scripture and offered prayers, as many of our laity and so many others listened, arm in arm, tear for tear. Media outlets from across the valley stayed throughout the evening – normally they come and leave after a period of time. Perhaps they too needed to hear the voice that faith brings. There were calls to contact your legislators and let them know your feelings on banning assault weapons, advocate for red flag and background checks, and ban bump stocks. Bump stocks are an addition to an assault rifle that enables bump firing – the act of using the recoil of a semi-automatic to assist in rapid-fire, rates that can be between 400-800 rounds per minute depending on the gun. (ex. 2017 Las Vegas shooting).
(Warning – graphic paragraph) Most troubling to so many beyond simply the horrific happening that day was the news that DNA was needed to identify many of the children. Parents gave/brought DNA samples, waiting into the night to learn if their child was one of the lost. DNA is needed as the wound from one assault weapon strike is the size of an orange, let alone if a victim is hit with more than one bullet. Assault rifle bullets travel three times the speed of other bullets and explode within rather than a straight path.
We stood together; we prayed together; we affirmed the call to vote together. This cannot go on. The rights provided to us as United States citizens are not unfettered rights. We need to rise, to be responsible for that which we have been given. We are called by God to be caretakers – of the earth, of each other, of the children.
Many clergy contacted me about last Sunday and sermon content. Or to just pray together for our Conference to hear, to lead for peace.
Thank you to DSW for helping so generously with shoes to remember the children. Thank you to Rev. Javier Olivares, Pastor Gina Pollard, Pastor Christopher Wurpts, and Rev. Tom Jelinek for your leadership and presence. Thank you to the many laity from our churches who came to join so many community members. We can, we will, we must – make a difference.