Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark is proposing that parishes in his diocese take part in “memorials to the lost” on Sunday, December 13, 2015 to mark “Gun Violence Sabbath.”
In the last several months, awareness of the epidemic of gun violence is catching up to the reality. Terrorist-like shootings in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette capture our attention, rip open the heart and ramp up the fear. Police shootings of innocents in Ferguson, Cleveland, North Charleston and Cincinnati rile the psyche and provoke the paradoxical question: how can a civilized society be so uncivilized?
An average of 30,000 lives are lost in America per year because of gun violence. To give a sense of scale, that is taking out the whole town of Livingston, NJ. With guns. In one year.
Most of the deaths are homicide. Many are suicides. All are tragic, and beg more of a response than disdain and righteous commentary.
While at General Convention, 1500 people marched against gun violence early on a Sunday morning, in an event organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. We decried the unholy Trinity of poverty, racism and gun violence – and in solidarity professed our commitment to Jesus, hope and peace. It was a great visual. It brought the work of the church outside. Yet it was not enough – unless it inspired people to continue to make a witness in their local contexts.
Which is what I am proposing that we do in the Diocese of Newark. Sunday, December 13 is Gun Violence Sabbath, so chosen because it coincides with the third anniversary of the Newtown, CT murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In addition to special prayers, I am inviting congregations to participate in “Memorials to the Lost,” which makes a visible witness – outside the church, to the scourge of gun violence.
Memorials to the Lost present T-shirts on poles displayed outside the church – with the names and death dates of people who have been shot and killed in that municipality or county. The display serves to alert viewers to the real toll of gun violence and to commemorate those who have died from guns. The display also provides a place of reflection, worship and prayer for those who pass by or visit, while inspiring those who install and host them. The Memorials attract significant attention among passersby and local media, presenting an opportunity to educate the public about how guns reach the street. The displays seek to unite people and communities of faith in the sacred responsibility to protect our brothers, sisters and children.