Church leaders express grief, call for action after Florida high school mass shooting

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 16, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal bishops are arranging for services of lamentation at churches around the country in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead, and the bishops and other church leaders are calling for political action against gun violence to end “these lethal spasms of violence in our country.”

“The heart of our nation has been broken yet again by another mass shooting at an American school,” Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a coalition of more than 70 Episcopal bishops, said in a statement released Feb. 16 following the Ash Wednesday massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

A former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been charged with 17 counts of murder after authorities say he opened fire with an AR-15 rifle in hallways and classrooms before ditching his gun and ammunition and blending in with students to escape. He was found and arrested on a city street later in the day.

Fourteen of the fatal victims were students. A football coach, athletic director and geography teacher also were killed.

Bishops United offered condolences to the families, singling out by name Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old student who was a youth group leader at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs.

The Coral Springs church posted news of Schentrup’s death Feb. 15 on Facebook.

“Please keep our entire church family in your prayers,” the Facebook post said while asking the public to respect the family’s privacy.

The Diocese of Southeast Florida, which includes Parkland and Coral Springs, released a statement Feb. 15 expressing grief at the “horrific massacre of innocents.”

“There are no words that can adequately give voice to the madness and the violence done to those gunned down, and to their families and friends so cruelly robbed of those they loved,” the statement says. “There are no words to describe the pain of loss and grief, of shock and horror, of outrage and anger, only the anguished cries that well up from the very depths of our being. There are no words to make sense of what makes no sense, and in the face of such senseless killing we are numbed and rendered speechless.”

Bishop Peter Eaton followed up Feb. 16 by saying Christians’ faith will help guide their response to this tragedy, and “we bring more than our prayers.”

“We bring our longings and convictions for a different future,” he said in his written statement on the shooting. “What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is not the world as it ought to be, or as it needs to be, and we who follow Jesus accept the responsibility for being partners with God to bridge that gap between what is and what could and ought to be.”

Also Feb. 15, Washington National Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith released a written prayer asking God to comfort those affected by the shooting spree while alluding to the political debates that typically are ignited by such killings.

“Forgive us, Lord, when our leaders fail to take action to protect the most vulnerable from the dangers of gun violence,” Hollerith’s prayer says. “Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we lack the courage and political will to work together. Open our eyes and our hearts to work across our divisions to end the plague of gun violence.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

“We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations,” Bishops United’s statement says before calling for political engagement by Episcopalians.

The bishops specifically call for legislation banning the AR-15 and similar weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines and so-called “bump stocks,” the device used by the shooter who killed 58 people at an outdoor music concert in Las Vegas in October.

“We understand that mass shootings account for a small percentage of the victims of gun violence; that far more people are killed by handguns than by any kind of rifle; that poverty, misogyny and racism contribute mightily to the violence in our society and that soaring rates of suicide remain a great unaddressed social challenge,” Bishops United’s statement says.

“And yet, the problem of gun violence is complex, and we must sometimes address it in small pieces if it is not to overwhelm us. So, please, call your members of Congress and insist that your voice be heard above those of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists.”

The group of bishops also plans to announce a schedule of services of lamentation, with details to be released on its Facebook page.

And Bishops United invited Episcopalians to join in a period of discernment, including in July at General Convention in Austin, Texas, when the bishops will gather for prayer outside the convention hall each morning.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence was formed as a response to an earlier school shooting, the December 2012 slaughter of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Since then, Bishops United has released statements with increased frequency responding to deadly mass shootings, including the Oct. 1 massacre of 58 people in Las Vegas and the Nov. 5 shooting that left 26 dead at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at


Comments (10)

  1. Donald Heacock says:

    There is reasonably fix that is available now. State government needs to secure schools. We have no NYC High rise shootings because the buildings are secure. Every entry is sealed. No one enters without ID.Retired military or police are in the building are in the building dressed with concealed weapons. Waging war on guns is a red herring. There are 100,000,000 guns In America. Semi automatic pistols have never been banned. A person with 2 of them & the right ammo could kill as many with no security in the building

  2. Robert Munro says:

    Just saying there’s a red herring for every argument.
    “An armed security guard never got the chance to stop the teen gunman who murdered 17 students and staffers at a Florida high school, authorities said Thursday.

    Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed that accused mass murderer Nikolas Cruz managed to shoot up the Parkland high school without ever encountering the school resource deputy.

    “He was on campus and he was armed,” Israel said. “At this point, the only thing I can tell you definitively is he never encountered Cruz.”

  3. Larry Waters says:

    Agree with D. Heacock’s comment. It is not the rifle, it’s the person using the rifle. We need security at our schools. In my grammar school 100 years ago, all the doors were locked and every visitor had to come to the principal’s office to get to classrooms. Even if the visitor managed to “escape” the principal’s office, doors to all the classrooms were locked and the entrance to the area where all the classrooms were was locked. Also, volunteer teachers could be trained to handle weapons, in case someone was able to get through a locked door. We need to look at security in Israel and how they handle evil, terrible people. And yes my heart is breaking for the ones affected by this terror. And as the old saying goes, if guns are ever outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. I wish evil could be eradicated; it cannot. If I offended anyone with my comments, I am truly sorry.

  4. william dailey says:

    The Bishops uninformed rant against guns and the NRA reflects an unwillingness to develop a solution to gun violence int schools. As reflected in comments above we do have the means to protect our schools. Unfortunately if a proposal doesn’t fit the Bishops anti-gun dogma they refuse to listen to it. Unfortunately this is true about many issues facing the church today. Pity!

  5. Jon Spangler says:

    It saddens me greatly to see that advocates of unlimited gun ownership are speaking up here on the church’s news service pages. Are we not supposed to bring peace to the world and to beat our swords into plowshares instead of advocating mass overexposure to lethal weapsons that are not managed or controlled as much as automobiles?
    It may be true that evil “cannot” be eradicated. But we can and do take action to reduce motor vehicle collisions by making highways and cars safer and by raising DUI standards. There are NO comparable (reasonable) restrictions on gun ownership or use in this country. Why? Would you let typhoid fever or TB or polio go unregulated?

    I have to meet minimal training and education standards to obtain and keep my California driver’s license. I have to purchase liability insurance for the car that I drive. At the very least, we could require similar (minimal) standards for all gun owners and purchasers. Not to mention lifting the congressional ban on using federal funds to even **study** gun violence in our weapons-addicted society.

    How many more needless deaths will it take until we, as believing Christians, act on the Bible’s imperatives to make peace and lay down our arms instead of worshipping icons like the Second Amendment?

  6. Joe Prasad says:

    May be this country should experiment by removing all gun control laws including restrictions on purchase of type of weapons to see how well the law abiding citizens can defend themselves against the outlaws. No place seems to be safe any more – malls, cinema theatres, schools, universities, churches, airports, etc.
    If I recall correctly, many years ago, a UK official wondered if there was something wrong in their education system that enabled British Muslims to become a jihadist.
    Perhaps similar questions need to be asked of this society – the role that media, movies, educational system, religious sermons, conduct of law enforcement and government officials play in making US a violent society.

  7. Anthony Oberdorfer says:

    With unlimited numbers of guns floating around it should be obvious that additional restrictions on gun ownership will accomplish almost nothing. What is needed is to recognize the enormous damage inflicted on our society by decades of so-called liberal policies which at every level have permeated human relationships to such an extent that virtually anything goes. It’s not gun control that’s needed but self-control and our institutions (including the Episcopal Church) seem unwilling to accept that. The future looks bleak indeed.

  8. PJ Cabbiness says:

    Thank you, once again, Mr. Oberdorfer for your thoughtful comments. As to the suggestion by Ms. Cravens that the comments here are posted by members of the “gun lobby” or bots, that is simply inaccurate and insulting.

  9. Cynthia Cravens says:

    We all need to be more aware that, in the age of online social media, and especially when controversial issues such as guns and gun safety laws are discussed, ‘bots’ (automated replies) and troll farms (people paid to lie about their identity in order to sway on online audience) are possible. To those gun rights supporters online here who, without compensation, freely shared their views, I do apologize. To bot commentators, no apology is necessary. And, to trolls working in troll farms…wherever…for whomever…may God have mercy on your souls.

  10. BD Howes says:

    Apologies accepted Cynthia though I should point out that ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’ come from all sides.

    Ironicly, the Bishops’ statement was incredibly premature. It was as if they were a bot or troll!

    Like a bot or troll their statement should be dismissed because no thought goes in to cutting and pasting talking points. The Bishops would have better served the Church and their reputation had they been more deliberative before issuing their statement. That’s what effective “leaders” do.

    A review of the facts that have since come out reveal that law enforcement, or more correctly, incompetent law enforcement, was largely to blame for the tragedy in Parkland. When the laws we already have are not enforced, it’s pointless to call for more laws. That’s called “common sense.”

    I don’t want to get started on a conversation about the left and law enforcement for that, I fear, will cause my head to explode!

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