I recently took a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at the Washington Hospital Center. One of my responsibilities as a chaplain intern was to report to the trauma center when patients arrived. Seeing victims of gun violence being wheeled in as nurses and doctors worked feverously to save their lives remains etched in my memory. Even more painful memories surround my attempts to provide pastoral care to distraught families and friends. Their shocked and grief-stricken faces are always with me.
One of my ways to respond is through drawing attention to the tragedy of gun violence in our communities. Here, I will draw attention to this national health crisis rather than debate the various efforts to reduce the violence. The latter would require many more words than are available in this short blog post.
Last year I helped the Anabaptist Peace Center organize a community forum on gun violence. This year we’re organizing a follow-up event called Mourn Our Loss, Claim Our Future: Responses to Gun Violence. It will feature Lloyd Wolf’s photographs of impromptu shrines that people erect in the places where victims have been shot and killed in the Washington DC area. The event will be held on June 4 at 7:00 pm at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Hyattsville, MD. All are welcome.
Another effort to draw attention to the tragedy of gun violence is a Memorial to the Lost that our congregation, Northern Virginia Mennonite Church, erected on its lawn at 3729 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA. The memorial was created by Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based organization committed to inspiring hope, raising voices, and taking action to end gun violence. It features 176 tee-shirts, each inscribed with the name of one person who died from gun violence in the greater Washington, D.C. area in 2013. Helping to erect the memorial, walking among the tee-shirts, and reading the names of victims, becomes a sacred exercise. The memorial will remain on our church lawn until May 31.
This past Sunday morning our church held a special service dedicating the memorial. Our service ended on the lawn beside all those tee-shirts. In our litany of commitment, we grieved for those who had been killed. We sought comfort and healing for those left to mourn. We also sought healing for the perpetrators and for the violence in our culture. We vowed that, faced with gun violence, we will educate, organize, advocate, and in all the ways we can, work for the day when guns and weapons of destruction are transformed into instruments of healing.