Episcopalians gather for Day of Lamentation amid calls for action against gun violence

By David Paulsen and Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Mar 14, 2018
Grace Church School demonstration

Students at Grace Church School participate in a demonstration outside the school in New York on March 14 as part of a nationwide day of student-led activities calling for action against gun violence. The flowers are in memory of a school aide who was shot and killed near the school last year. Photo: Art Chang, Chang.NYC

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians gathered in Springfield, Massachusetts, outside the headquarters of Smith & Wesson Corp. to rally behind protest signs that asked the gun manufacturer to “Stop Selling Assault Weapons.” Episcopalians in Trenton, New Jersey, participated in a 12-hour “Day of Lamentation” over gun violence. Students of Episcopal schools from New York to Florida walked out of class to participate in a nationwide call to action.

Student-led demonstrations around the country and the dozens of separate events at Episcopal cathedrals and churches coincided March 14 to mark one month since the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Though independently organized, the variety of events – on what was billed by youth organizers as National Walkout Day – served to underscore a common push for political action to address the seemingly relentless outbreak of mass shootings in the U.S.

“This is the only developed nation in the world that has a gun death problem at the rate we do,” New Jersey Bishop Chip Stokes said in his sermon at Eucharist held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton. “Those of us who oppose it need to get in the face of the problem and cry out in the name of the Lord.”

Such calls have been growing since 17 students and educators were shot and killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A 19-year-old former student has been charged in the massacre.

Smith & Wesson

Episcopalians join a interfaith group of demonstrators outside a Smith & Wesson facility in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14. Photo: Victoria Ix/Diocese of Western Massachusetts

The series of Episcopal events on March 14, coordinated by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, included services, prayers, the tolling of bells and, in some cases, a more direct form of advocacy.

An estimated 100 or more demonstrators, led by young people and interfaith leaders, including the bishops of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Diocese of Massachusetts, stood for an hour outside the Smith & Wesson facility in Springfield drew “Protect Children Not Guns,” read one protest sign.

Smith & Wesson made the guns used in the mass shootings in Parkland, in Aurora, Colorado, and in San Bernardino, California.

At the end of the hour, the student leaders delivered  three demands to the guards at the Smith & Wesson visitor center. They hope for a meeting with company leaders within the next 30 days. They are asking the manufacturer to stop selling military-grade weapons to the civilian population and to create a community compensation fund to help bear the costs related to gun violence.

Such events shared the spotlight with the day’s widespread classroom walkouts and student-led demonstrations against gun violence. At the Episcopal-rooted Grace Church School in New York, students in grades 4 through 12 linked hands to surround the school, and they placed flowers in memory of a school aide who was shot and killed near the school Nov. 1 of last year.

Students at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida, gathered in the morning at the school’s flagpole to pray for gun violence victims and sign a banner of support for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A student demonstration also was held at Palmer Trinity School in Miami, Florida.

The events at Episcopal cathedrals and churches range from gatherings for silent reflection to full-day activities underscoring the call to action. Here are some examples:

Bell tolls: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell, Iowa; Grace Church in Sheldon, Vermont, and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, were among the churches tolling their bells 17 times, one toll for each of the Parkland victims.

Services of Lamentation: These services, encouraged by Bishops United, have been scheduled in numerous dioceses throughout the day, both at cathedrals and in individual congregations. Bishops United Against Gun Violence has posted information about some of the services. Participants include St. James Cathedral in Chicago; the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Des Moines, Iowa; St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, Maine; Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, California; Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, Massachusetts; and All Saints’ Cathedral in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Day of Lamentation: The Diocese of New Jersey’s Day of Prayer, Lamentation, Fasting and Silence began at 6:30 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton and lasted until 6:30 p.m. The service including reading the names of gunshot fatalities. The Diocese of Vermont began at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington with a full schedule of activities, including music and readings, as well as public prayers offered each hour on the hour.

The Diocese of Connecticut’s schedule included Eucharist at noon at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford followed by a lunch where community leaders were to lead conversations about gun violence. A vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Comments (22)

  1. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I don’t question good intentions but this is yet another wonderful example of demonstrations which will accomplish absolutely nothing beyond making the demonstrators feel good and a bit holier-than-thou. Even if every gun manufacturer in the world went out of business tomorrow there are so many guns around that anyone who really wants one for any purpose can get one with minimal difficulty. What the Episcopal Church should be doing is reminding people of the need for personal self-control and that is admittedly a difficult concept in an age when the name of the game is that everybody has a right to do anything he can get away with.

  2. Ross Hartford says:

    “This is the only nation in the world that has a gun death problem at the rate we do,” New Jersey Bishop Chip Stokes said in his sermon at Eucharist held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton. “Those of us who oppose it need to get in the face of the problem and cry out in the name of the Lord.”

    This statement has been proven false over and over. The USA is in the middle of the pack as far as gun deaths per capita. You can check out the facts at the website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate

  3. Revd Sarah V.Lewis says:

    Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” How can one not speak up against actions that demean, degrade, or destroy creatures made in the image of our Creator? It’s too soon to judge the outcome of such witness against violence or to know the number of lives that may be strengthened for good.

  4. B.D. Howes says:

    Everyone knows kids would march against the right to assemble if it got them out of school. So let’s quit the charade. There is nothing organic about these protests.

    I don’t own a gun. I’ve never owned a gun. I have no intention to ever own a gun! For me, this is not about guns, it’s about integrity.

    For those who were marching and missed class. There is a way to amend the Constitution. Look it up!

  5. M. J. Wise says:

    “This is the only nation in the world that has a gun death problem at the rate we do,” New Jersey Bishop Chip Stokes said in his sermon at Eucharist held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton.


    No matter how you slice the data (either mass shootings or total homicides per capita), that’s just untrue. Clergy should educate themselves before they make easily refutable factual claims. It’s easier than ever to check oneself for accuracy. I can understand the well-meaning but ignorant protests of the younger crowd, but really, trained and educated adult clergy should know and do better.

  6. William Stokes says:

    For the record. I was misquoted. I actually said, of any developed nation in the world.” This a fact verified by Wikipedia and confirmed by the chart referenced in an earlier post. It is also a fact verified by multiple other sources.

    1. mfschjonberg says:

      And, we will correct our summary in the story above.

  7. rev. carol carlson says:

    Commentator Wise is correct in the narrow sense that Bp. Stokes was in error when he said “This is the only nation in the world that has a gun death problem at the rate we do,” According to the wiki article cited by Mr. Harford, there are other nations that kill people with guns at greater rates than we do. What these commentators neglect to mention is that these nations are all nations at war, either the nauseating political conflicts of strongmen against their own people or drug-related violence. This is the ‘pack’ that we are at the center of, not the group of nations which respect the rule of law and run their countries by means other than state terrorism and sheer violence. ‘No matter how you slice the data (either mass shootings or total homicides per capita)’, what is true is that we are no longer members of the class of nations which we ought to be aspiring to rejoin. Instead we have chosen to institutionalise the sacrifice of our children to the dark gods, even as the most misguided and violent elements in our society continue to claim that we are a ‘Christian’ nation. May God have mercy on our idolatrous souls. .

  8. M. J. Wise says:

    Rev. Nelson,

    U.S.-wide statistics mask the fact that if you look at a state-by-state basis, many states have rates that are unremarkable compared to European gun violence rates. There very much are localities of the U.S. that resemble “nations at war, either…strongmen against their own people or drug-related violence.” Nation-level statistics mask these important details in the data. I will leave it to your research and/or imagination to figure out where those places are and what is going on there.

  9. B.D. Howes says:

    As any good virtue signaling Bishop knows, the truth be damned. But, for the rest of us, lets take a look at data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world!

    Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).

    Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).

    Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1)
    Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).

    Atlanta’s rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).

    Cleveland (17.4) has a higher rate than the Dominican Republic (16.3).

    Gun murder in Buffalo (16.5) is similar to Panama (16.2).

    Houston’s rate (12.9) is slightly higher than Ecuador’s (12.7).

    Gun homicide in Chicago (11.6) is similar to Guyana (11.5).

    Phoenix’s rate (10.6) is slightly higher than Mexico (10).

    Los Angeles (9.2) is comparable to the Philippines (8.9).

    Boston rate (6.2) is higher than Nicaragua (5.9).

    New York, where gun murders have declined to just four per 100,000, is still higher than Argentina (3).

    Now, can you tell me something these cities have in common besides, of course, high gun homicide rates?

    Anyone? Anyone?

    Now, for homework, compare violence in the 15 most liberal cities with violence in the 15 most conservative cities (as defined by the Bay Area Center For Voting Research). I’ll give you a hint about what you’ll find: It’s not something you’ll see on a Bishop’s bumper sticker.

  10. The liberal/conservative city divide (lower vs. higher gun ownership, presumably) won’t wash.
    In point of fact, gun ownership coincides with higher rates of gun homicide everywhere in the US. Here from the not-liberal Scientific American:
    And government statistics from the Center for Disease Control and the FBI:
    And check this report, as well: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/12/8/9870240/gun-ownership-deaths-homicides

    As the Bishop in Europe, the reason I belong to Bishops United Against Gun Violence is because even in developed countries with much lower rates of gun violence than the United States, it is still a problem in the 6 countries where we have congregations. And as an American, I am devastated by the constant drumbeat of mass shootings, and embarrassed that we seem unable to do a single thing to stem the rising tide.

  11. B.D. Howes says:

    Dear Bishop,

    I have to apologize for not having time to respond right now. Nonetheless, I do want to address your confutation when I have time. For now, all I can ask is that you open your mind to a factual discussion.

  12. B.D. Howes says:

    I am responding to Bishop Pierre Whalon incorrectly asserting I linked gun ownership with gun homicides. This is the Bishop’s construct. The point I was making in the CDC statistics above is that leaders from the left and their laws have not been effective in mitigating gun violence.

    Given your comment about the 6 countries where we have congregations, we should be able to stipulate the gun laws, there and here, haven’t worked; for, if they had, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    I don’t know if the Bishop intentionally changed the subject but, left to my druthers, I’d rather focus on why the laws aren’t achieving what we want. I am sympathetic to issues in Europe but politically, historically, and demographically, the US has little in common with our European siblings. Mais revenons à nos moutons.

    I’d rather not waste much time to pivot from a constructive conversation to your ownership equates to gun homicides narrative; however, I didn’t want to ignore you either. So here goes, a shallow dive into the links you provided.

    Melinda Wenner Moyer is a blogger, not a researcher, and the Scientific American is not a peer reviewed scientific journal. On her blog, Ms Moyer’s bio says, “Recently I’ve been writing for Scientific American, Nature Medicine, Slate, Popular Science, Glamour, Redbook, and Men’s Journal.” She also boasts that she won an award for a story she wrote for Mother Jones. She definitely has a liberal .

    As we would expect from one who is paid by click bait, Ms Moyer fills her story with fantastic anecdotes, citations from advocacy research, and cherry-picked data from the research of others. Again, I don’t want to jump down the rabbit hole so I am reluctantly giving only one example (yes, I realize I am cherry picking but forgive me as this is a comment not a story) from one of the studies she mentions, National Research Council (NRC) Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review National Academies Press (2004):

    “Lott argued that MURDER RATES DECLINE AFTER THE ADOPTION OF RTC laws even after allowing for the effect of other variables that affect crime rates. THE COMMITTEE HAS CONFIRMED THIS FINDING as is evident in its Tables 6-1, 6-2, 6-5 (first row), 6-6 (first row), and 6-7 (first two rows). This confirmation includes both the original data period (1977-1992) used by Lott and data that run through 2000…

    “In sum, I find that the evidence presented by Lott and his supporters suggests that RTC LAWS DO IN FACT HELP DRIVE DOWN THE MURDER RATE, though their effect on other crimes is ambiguous.” [EMPHASIS added]

    As to the Bishop’s links thereafter, I found them even less helpful to your premise.

    The CDC Mortality Dashboard offers nothing to this discussion. There is no data there linking gun ownership and gun homicides. So let’s see if we can make this relevant. The CDC reported 7 firearm homicides per 100,000 people in 1993 and 4 firearm homicides per 100,000 in 2015 (the most recent year I could find).

    Now what was gun ownership over the same period? It’s nearly impossible to come up with an exact number but I found 185 million in 1993 and 357 million in 2013. But, to prove the point, we don’t really need to know the exact number just to agree that there are more guns now than in 1993.

    The inexorable conclusion is GUN HOMICIDES DECREASED concurrently with an INCREASE IN GUN OWNERSHIP!

    I’m not going to was time with your links at http://www.gunviolencearchive.org I saw nothing there to support your notion.

    The vox.com link provided by the Bishop actually supports a conclusion that an increase in gun ownership DOES NOT EQUATE with an increase in gun homicide. To the contrary, quoting from the webpage you sent me to:

    “A more recent study from 2013, led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher, reached similar conclusions: After controlling for multiple variables, the study found that a 1 PERCENT INCREASE IN GUN OWNERSHIP CORRELATED WITH A ROUGHLY 0.9 PERCENT RISE IN FIREARM HOMICIDE rate at the state level.” [EMPHASIS added]

    I’m sorry Bishop, 1 is less than 0.9.

    In closing, I want to stress that I am not a gun guy. I don’t wish to engage on that level. I have no issue with background checks or bans on military weapons. If someone wants to discuss solutions, I’m all in; otherwise, I’m not engaging on this issue any further.

  13. B.D. Howes says:

    Oops 1 is NOT less than 0.9!

  14. B.D. Howes says:

    Im sorry one more addendum. Writing on a phone while waiting in the auto shop is not the best way to pull thoughts together. Given that I was cutting and pasting relevant parts of the cited studies on a regular-sized phone, I’m not particularly surprised to discover on review several typos and that I left out the following from the BU study cited and quoted above.

    “We examined the relationship between levels of household firearm ownership, as measured directly and by a proxy—the percentage of suicides committed with a firearm—and age-adjusted firearm homicide rates at the state level.”


    “A reverse causal association was also possible. For example, increases in firearm homicide rates could have led to efforts by state residents to acquire guns, thus increasing gun ownership levels. We addressed this question with a lagged variable and found that gun ownership, lagged by either 1 or 2 years, was still a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates. This is consistent with, BUT DOES NOT PROVE, the hypothesis that changes in gun ownership rates affect subsequent firearm homicide rates.” [Emphasis added]

  15. Susan Douglas says:

    For anyone who thinks this is just about kids skipping class, I assure you for most it is not. I work with high school students who are profoundly upset about the deaths of school children and believe the only voice they have is one of peaceful protest. Every lock-down drill we do, and there are many, these young people know that it could as easily be us as it was Parkland or Columbine. Texas has a gun culture and we all know that many of our students have access to these weapons. When I was their age, we protested too and it did some good. I hope they make a difference. And I am glad the Church is calling out our society for allowing an unacceptable situation to continue. There are things that can be done if people of good will have the courage to sit down and reason together. It is unethical not to at least try.

  16. PJ Cabbiness says:

    The term “gun violence” as it is used by the left presupposes the ability of inanimate objects to somehow conspire to cause injury or death. This is ridiculous. Violence is created by the thought, will and action of malicious, disturbed and deranged human beings. The physical instrumentality used in the violent acts in question are only, in the case of firearms, a secondary issue. The primary matter is of causality and this is truly grounded in evil. No legislative act that further impairs the rights of law abiding citizens to own and use firearms will have any measurable effect on “gun violence”. However, additional restrictions will continue to degrade our constitutional rights and freedoms and will promote the Marxist narrative that seeks to ban all firearms and therefore any meaningful resistance to totalitarianism.

  17. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    Susan Douglas sounds as though she herself is a person of good will but I suggest she read (or reread) my own brief comment and that just submitted by PJ Cabbiness. Long experience should tell us that further gun controls will do virtually nothing to reduce serious gun “violence” such as the Florida school shootings. I believe that the powers-that-be in the Episcopal Church have been seriously derelict in focusing on guns and pretty much ignoring the impact on our society of such horrors as the existence of round-the-clock violence and pornography of the worst sort which is now available to almost everybody via “smart” phones and such. Normal people may .be immune to much of this but can there really be any doubt that the brains of potential perpetrators of violent acts with guns or any other weapon are not? And are not such acts inevitably encouraged by the prevailing “liberal” philosophy of the day (evidently shared, sadly, by many modern Episcopalians) that traditional behavioral standards mean nothing any more and that every individual should have the constitutional right to do anything he (or she!) wants as long as a skilled lawyer can keep him or her out of jail or the execution chamber? Think about it.

    There are plenty of things (including parental attention) that can indeed influence children at a very early age in the right direction short of encouraging them to build fancy signs and facilitating their ability to participate in school “walkouts” and street demonstrations. (Please do not allow kindergarteners and first graders to be referred to as “student activists”!) But so long as for the time being anyway there remain plenty of evil people floating around eager to kill school security should obviously be tightened and that would certainly involve encouraging pupils at whatever age to report suspicious people including classmates who have repeatedly acted strangely such as the Florida shooter. A bit of common sense would be in order.

  18. Joe Prasad says:

    PJ – I guess the term “gun violence” is used because guns are involved in injury or death. It is true that human beings are ultimately responsible for their actions but there are certain environments/laws that make it easier for them to act responsibly or irresponsibly. For a harmonious society, laws are put in place to restrict/ban drugs, pornography, violence, etc.
    What is leftist or Marxist about this?

  19. PJ Cabbiness says:

    Joe. In this context we are dealing with an aggressive, reactionary, organized attack on a clear, fully adjudicated constitutional amendment. The purpose of the left regarding this matter is to incrementally eliminate the freedoms and protections afforded to us by the second amendment which will weaken our ability to resist tyranny and to protect our persons and property. Despite the emotional arguments presented in this article; thoughtful, reasonable, constitutionally informed minds must prevail. This is not to say that changes and adjustments are not in order. However, the gun component is only a part of the problem and we must tread carefully in this area.

  20. Kenneth Knapp says:

    It seems to me that Episcopalians are of three minds on this issue. There are those who think we need more gun laws, there are those who think we need fewer gun laws, and there are those who think that our existing laws are adequate as is. I think that we can hold any of those positions and still be good Christians. We cease to be good Christians when we start to think that we are morally superior to those who don’t share our opinion.

  21. mike geibel says:

    As a gun owner at risk of being accused of blasphemy by my 2nd Amendment friends, I support severe restrictions on the sale or transfer of military assault “style” weapons. However, I also recognize that banning the sale of assault style weapons will not render schools or public places, “safe.”

    Prohibiting the sale of high capacity, military assault style weapons would pass Constitutional muster as a reasonable regulation of firearms given the limited utility of such firearms balanced against the risk to the public that the availability of such weapons to religious fanatics, Marxist anarchists, anti-social extremists, and the mentally deranged Frankenstein monsters in our society, not because we will be “safe,” but because such laws would make schools and public places “safer.” The same rationale was used in the prohibition against private ownership of machine guns, bazookas, cannons and flame throwers. These laws were enacted not based upon statistics either for or against gun ownership; they were enacted based upon common sense. Assault style weapons in the hands of the wrong people are simply too dangerous. But please recognize that restrictions upon their sale or transfer will do nothing to remove the over 3 million assault style weapons already owned by private citizens.

    That said, if making public places “safer” is the slogan for supporting a ban, then the same logic and argument supports enforcing “extreme vetting” on travel and immigration from Islamic countries. During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded—airplanes, not guns were used. On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs were detonated near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs—again, no guns were used. On July 14, 2016 at a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice, France, an Islamic fanatic drove a 20-ton rental truck into the crowd, striking and killing 86 people—private gun ownership is severely restricted in France. On November 1, 2017, a pickup truck rampage left at least eight people dead in lower Manhattan.

    Unquestionably, less than 1% of Muslims are fanatical murderers. But the same is true of gun owners—less than 1% of those who own semi-automatic rifles use those weapons to commit murder and mayhem.

    A daily reminder of the lethality of the extremist and depraved minds in our open society, is the “tamper-proof” sealed containers on products found at the grocery story—all the result of some sociopaths’ desire for murder and chaos by contaminating everyday products with arsenic (rat poison) and other commercially available, lethal chemicals. Nuclear “suitcase” bombs and “dirty bombs” designed to spread nuclear contamination or biological mayhem are technologically feasible and are a predicted reality facing society, especially those with open borders.

    In the popular zeal to encourage protests and marches against “gun violence,” no attention is paid to the mind-altering influence of “media violence” in movies and computer games where mass murder, killings, and zombie massacres are featured in blood-curdling detail. I’ve seen nothing from the TEC on the importance of parental supervision and monitoring of what our children watch on TV or on their computers. The plans for building home-made bombs are readily accessible on the internet. Certainly, curtailing “internet violence” triggers 1st Amendment concerns. But if the true purpose of a ban on assault weapons is to be part of comprehensive actions that will make our public places “safer”, then extreme vetting on immigrants from societies which have declared Jihad against America and hate Christians, and reasonable restrictions and penalties, including civil liability, on the purveyors of “media violence” should be part of the discussion.

    It may make for good Press, but little is to be accomplished by demonizing the NRA, or gun owners, unless the ulterior purpose is to to divide and polarize the nation. The NRA is too easy a target—demonizing the NRA triggers none of the troubling Biblical conflicts that supporting immigration restrictions on refugees from Islamic countries would entail. The NRA is paid by its members to be an advocate for gun owning citizens who “legally” own guns. Undoubtedly the recent media attacks have galvanized its 5 million+ members, and many millions more of non-members but who own guns, into funding an action campaign to preserve what they perceive is a threat to 2nd Amendment rights. National Rental Cars, Delta and United Airlines (now there is a joke) distancing themselves from the NRA by ending discounts to NRA members is a laughable publicity stunt that more probably will result in millions of gun owners refusing to patronize these companies. The actions by these companies is tantamount to the Episcopal Church passing a resolution that parishioners who own guns cannot participate in the Eucharist. The backlash would be swift and economically punitive.

    Bishop Brian Cole of Tennessee recently said: “Voices that call for common ground are drowned out by louder cries to divide and to demonize and to degrade. So all the more important is our witness to be a place for connection and communion where division and differences can be reconciled in Christ.” Hyperbolic fallacy is the tool of politicians and hate mongers seeking to motivate by exaggeration rather than through fact or common sense –it is the enemy of compromise solutions. The Bishops would be better served by appealing to common sense and the better hearts of gun owners rather than blaming the NRA for the acts of maniacs.

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