CHURCH youth groups and leaders from across the United States joined last weekend’s mass protest by young Americans demanding tighter gun control.
More than 800,000 people were estimated to have attended the March For Our Lives rally on the steps of the Capitol, in Washington, on Saturday. Support for the campaign, which was sparked by the killing of 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School, Parkland, in Florida, last month, meant that more than 800 protests were held in the US and abroad.
In Scotland, families affected by the 1996 Dunblane massacre gathered outside the US consulate in Edinburgh, and, in London, several hundred people met at the US embassy.
In Washington, huge crowds thronged Pennsylvania Avenue; placards read “Protect kids not guns” and “Am I next?”. The singers Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus performed on a stage in front of the Capitol, and the singer and actress Jennifer Hudson — who has lost her mother, brother, and nephew to gun violence — sang Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. In between, students made speeches, urging decisive action.
The Episcopal Church, which has launched an online petition calling on Congress to ban assault weapons, sent delegations from around the US to Washington, and organised local rallies.
The Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, the Rt Revd Mark Beckwith, who led a six-bus convoy to Washington, lauded the “eloquence and outrage” of the Parkland students. He said that he was attending “in part, to follow the passion of young people, but, more than that, and deeper than that, I am going to follow Jesus, who, with his unwavering commitment to non-violence, regularly stepped into the crucibles of power that condoned, if not fostered, violence”.
The Bishop, who is a convener of the Episcopalian group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, said that he believed that there was a groundswell of support for gun reform.
One church in California, All Saints’, Pasadena, raised money to fly ten members of its youth group to Washington to lobby their Congresswoman, Judy Chu.
About 110 young people from five Episcopal churches in Chicago hired two buses to attend. “This is like Jesus going to the capital,” the Revd Bonnie Perry said, highlighting a Palm Sunday theme. “This is a pilgrimage. It’s a spiritual pilgrimage; it’s a Lenten discipline. This is what we’re called to do.”
The Bishop of Chicago, the Rt Revd Jeffrey Lee, was one of several leaders who urged their followers to join in marches in their dioceses. “Please pray that God will console, sustain, and heal all whose lives are touched by gun violence, and that God will make evident the work that we are being called to do to end this scourge,” he said.
In Upper Montclair, New Jersey, worshippers at St James’s built a temporary memorial to victims of school shootings. “This is not politics. This is gospel,” the Rector, the Revd Melissa Hall, said. “We just love our children, and want to keep them safe.”
On the eve of the march, Washington National Cathedral held a multifaith vigil. Prayers were said by Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, and reflections by those affected by gun violence, including a pastor whose mother was one of nine gun victims in a Charleston church in 2015.
More than 3000 members of the Union for Reform Judaism — the largest Jewish denomination in the US — joined the demonstration to “pray with their feet”, and 35 members of the First Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia, came, after being exhorted to go by a schoolchild in their congregation.
The Pastor, the Revd Corey Gibson, said: “It’s not enough just to say these gun-violence victims are in our thoughts and prayers; it’s important that we stand up and make sure things are put in place so this cycle is not repeating.”