We are all distressed and deeply saddened by the shooting at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama which took three precious lives and wounded another. When you heard this I’m sure, like me, you stopped what you were doing and offered fervent prayers to the Living God. We can only imagine the anguish these families and St. Stephen’s is feeling. As St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, if one member of the body suffers, we all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26).
But these prayers that arise from our souls are offered in a context. Unlike political leaders that offer “thoughts and prayers” and then do nothing about gun violence, the Episcopal Church is committed to stopping the carnage. We are committed to keep on praying and we are committed to action. And we have been for a long time. Bishops United Against Gun Violence has called gun violence a “a public health crisis.” In his message on Friday morning, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry went further and called it “the plague of gun violence.”
With so many of you, I have been advocating for ten years now for numerous gun safety laws and the outlawing of assault weapons. Often we are frustrated and discouraged. The numbers of guns in the United States have steadily risen in these years to almost 400 million. The deaths they cause have also risen dramatically. It seems as if our country worships guns. This latest tragedy could deepen our despair. But it can also make us recommit to the work we have already begun. Our prayers are not “mere prayers” but prayers said by a Church that has acted and will continue to act for peace as we believe in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
What do our prayers lead us to do? There are many dimensions to this plague and here are just a few of many prayerful actions we can take.
- Vote for political leaders who support gun safety
- Support “red flag” legislation
- Petition gun manufacturers to become part of the solution instead of being such a big part of the problem
- Call for investment in our economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where the risk of gun violence is highest
- Join the community of Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence and feel less alone as we all work for a safer future
If one member of the body suffers, we all suffer together.
We are praying, praying, praying for the people of St. Stephen’s and the families who mourn. And as we pray at Evening Prayer: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher
Bishop of Western Massachusetts