Bill Wealand strongly believes that love is the best response to the horrific acts of gun violence that currently plague our country. So the disaster ministry coordinator for the United Church of Christ's Florida Conference hopes that an upcoming series of workshops will equip pastors with the tools and knowledge to help their congregations and communities cope and heal in the wake of these tragic events.
"Love has more power than any gun ever created," he said. "We have to try to respond to these violent activities with love to the greatest extent possible."
The workshops will take place Feb. 11, 12 and 14 at three Florida-based UCCs. The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs, president of the New York Metropolitan Association of the UCC and past president of the UCC Professional Chaplains and Counselors, will lead the program. She will discuss the theological, spiritual and psychological issues individuals face during these acts of violence and how pastors can best respond. Sponsored by One Great Hour of Sharing, the UCC's refugee, relief and development offering, the programs are free to the public, and Wealand is expecting about 30 attendees at each event.
"Martha Jacobs will have the lion's share of the presentation time and she will be talking about some of the theological issues churches are called upon to respond to when events like this happen, as well as some of the spiritual, nurturing things that pastors can provide when violence occurs," Wealand explains. "She will also talk about the psychological issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder, that appear following events like this and ways congregations can be supportive for people struggling to work their way through such issues."
One goal of the workshop is to ensure church leaders recognize that congregations play a significant role in the response to such events, "whether they happen in your backyard or across the nation," Wealand said. Another goal is to educate UCC pastors of the chaplaincy services available to them through the UCC national offices and the One Great Hour of Sharing program.
The idea to organize these workshops came to Wealand after hearing how UCC disaster ministries helped the community of Chardon, Ohio, after a student shot and killed three of his classmates at Chardon High School in Feb. 2012. After UCC-led group discussions, reflection and prayer, the students of Chardon High School created a paper chain of peace and placed it on the front lawn of the shooter's home.
"The students communicated nonverbally and verbally that, while they did not affirm or condone the shooting, they were nevertheless there to be supportive of the family and indicate that the community still wanted to maintain a connection to them," Wealand said. "I was personally so deeply touched…and somehow intuitively felt that church leaders in Florida needed to hear that story and be given some assistance to help them chart a pathway through such a horrific kind of experience should it happen in their community."
Contact the Florida Conference of the UCC for more information or to register.