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Violence at houses of worship - how we can respond


Dear Companions on the Journey,

Many of us have been shocked and saddened by the multiple violent acts perpetrated upon houses of worship in recent weeks. The shooting in mosques in New Zealand last month, arson in three black churches in Louisiana, suicide bombers in churches and hotels of Sri Lanka as Holy Week came to a close, and the shooting at the Chabad synagogue in the San Diego area on the last day of Passover have shaken our spirits. Each incident was like a painful blow, especially as so many gathered to worship during the holiest time of their tradition’s year.

The rising number of mass shootings in the last decade have taught us that no place is safe from violence. Still, it is immensely difficult to accept that even sacred spaces are not safe from those driven by hatred and violence. People committed to these acts seem to have no hesitation, shame, or mercy. Nor do they lack confidence in their ability to mete out harm.

This is the world in which we live, move, and have our being. Acceptance of hate-fueled violence is unacceptable to us. Yet what does it mean if we refuse to tolerate hatred and violence aimed at houses of worship? Can we have an impact that lessens the occurrences of violence?

We are not created for fear, hopelessness, or acceptance of evil acts. Though we have grown adept at protest, advocacy, and liturgy in response to gun violence in our country, this iteration of violence seems to demand a different response.

When the disciples were not able to heal a young boy, the boy’s father turned to Jesus for help. Afterwards the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to heal the boy on their own. “It is because you don’t have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.” (Matthew 17:21)

Our faith is a powerful corrective to the forces that work against God and God’s people. The faith God has given us, connects us to God’s insight, wisdom, mercy, power, and transformation.  Guided by God, we may be surprised by what God will do through our actions. Two areas have grown in importance in my prayers and reflections on how God is calling us to respond to these violent acts: 1) Corporate and individual prayer 2) Generously sharing our gifts for building community.

Our prayerful responses are especially important right now. Simple steps like including the names of the dead, their families, and the names of the congregations assaulted to our Sunday prayers, reminds us and others that the family of faith is quite large and all parts are loved by God and God’s people. Our individual prayers for God’s protection and wisdom for houses of worship are powerful. The times we live in cry out for fervent prayers beseeching God’s transforming presence to intervene in the lives of those who make violence. I encourage us all to stand firmly and frequently in our prayers — the world is in need of the faithful and dynamic action of prayer.

Every Sunday parishioners tell me about the importance of their faith communities. “Belonging, family, love, cared for, and understood,” are all ways that our diocese describes faith communities. Every Sunday I encourage parishioners to share their community with others, especially the lonely, sad, grieving, and left out. It is entirely possible that when we share our communities with those who are vulnerable and isolated, God may transform the life of one headed toward doing harm. Simply by sharing our community with others, we might save a life.

If you or your parish has not been in contact with one or more of the houses of worship hurt by violence, then now is a good time to send greetings, love, prayers, and support. Cards, letters, and messages of solidarity are tangible signs of hope and of the larger family of faith. These hurting communities need the support of faithful people as they grieve, heal, and tend to the details of recovery.

These are small actions and may seem inconsequential to some. It will be near impossible to draw a direct line from our prayers, or invitation to participate in community, or card of support to a specific change in the world we live in. But as teenager said to me recently, “I know this is a small thing I am doing, but if everyone did something every day, it might make the world better.”

While marches, protests, letters to legislative representatives continue, we will need to continue to stretch ourselves to take the faithful steps of prayer and cultivating faith communities. With our mustard seed faith, God is able to do much good through, with, and around us.

Grace and peace,
Bishop Hughes

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