On November 14-15, an emerging coalition of interfaith voices gathered in Harrisburg to pray, organize, and advocate for the end of gun violence in the Commonwealth. The Episcopal dioceses led the way for voices from a variety of backgrounds and traditions to call on the legislature to take action. The two days were intentionally rooted in prayer, worship, and relationship building, in the hope and preparation for a long road of advocacy ahead. To add your voice to the call to end gun violence, send a letter to your lawmakers here.
To join Pennsylvania Lutheran advocates working toward communities safe from gun violence, send us a note here .
To read more about a Lutheran perspective on ways to address gun violence, see the Draft Social Message on Gun-Related Violence and Trauma. Be on the lookout for opportunities to study and comment on the draft, coming soon.
Tuesday night, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral hosted an interfaith prayer service to end gun violence. The Rev. Matthew Best, member of LAMPa’s policy council read Luke 22:47-51, Jesus stopping the disciples from committing violence even against the Temple guards who have come to arrest him. Best reflected on the vigil later, saying, “Wow. It was one of the most moving worship services I have been to in recent time…The times of silence were beautiful. The prayers meaningful. Being with so many interfaith partners was a way of seeing a wider swath of the image of God.” Outside the sanctuary, Shane Claiborne of RAWtools provided a demonstration of Isaiah 2:4, by dismantling a rifle, melting it down, and reforming it into a trowel. A vision where peace reigns and all gather on God’s holy mountain was made tangible.
That evening leaders from the budding coalition gathered to break bread together and build a vision of the future. LAMPa staff, Best, and Bishop James Dunlop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, provided a Lutheran presence and voice to the discernment about next steps for the coalition.
Bishop Jim Dunlop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod addressed the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast. Photo by Stephen Drachler.
The next morning, faith leaders gathered with legislators for a prayer breakfast. Episcopal bishop Audrey Scanlon welcomed the community, and gun violence prevention champions Rep. Mike Sturla and Sen. Art Haywood offered their encouragement and advice for the coming legislative visits. Bishop Dunlop was among a number of interfaith leaders asked to speak. He reflected on Martin Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. “We should serve and help our neighbor in every possible way,” he said, quoting Luther. Dunlop went on to ask, “As we address the issues that face us, we as people of every faith must ask how can we seek peace? And how can we serve our neighbor in every possible way?” He later answered those questions in part by articulating the need for the church to engage in advocacy, saying, “We must insist that our elected leaders do more than hold the victims of this violence in their thoughts and prayers. They must act on our behalf.“
Later, Dunlop and LAMPa staff participated in visits with lawmakers. After participating in a solemn walk of remembrance around the Capitol, naming and remembering those who have been lost to gun violence in Pennsylvania in the last year, LAMPa’s Hunger Advocacy Fellow, Quentin Bernhard reflected on the march as a way to “show that their memory lives on among us, even if they are missing from our common earthly life. It was a way for us to be present in their absence and hold shirts representing their abiding memory.”
Overall, the two days were an example of ways for people of faith to come together. Bernhard further reflected on conversations he had with other advocates, stating that the general feeling was one of mutuality and excitement and that “our differences matter little in this space, even if we’re from different denominations, because we were there for the same thing that day—action to end gun violence.”