Written by Connie Larkman
Image by Ted Dawson Studios
Three national leaders of the United Church of Christ, in a public witness deploring the mass shooting that ended the lives of 50 people, will be joining clergy of the UCC Florida Conference on Tuesday, June 14, in Orlando, to be present with the communities, congregations, civic leaders, and families and friends of those murdered at the Pulse nightclub, a haven and gathering spot for the LGBTQ community.
"We want to express our profound grief on behalf of those friends and family members most affected by this violence; and who in the days to come will either be burying loved ones or attending to their physical and emotional wounds," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. "But what we feel and wish to express goes far beyond deep grief. There is also enormous anger and profound rage that once again beautiful and innocent people have been violated in this horrible way; and that homophobia continues to threaten the safety and sanctity of another person’s right to pursue happiness."
The UCC, which has always been a religious voice that stands for LGBTQ rights, will also be represented in Florida by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, and the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive of Health and Wholeness Advocacy.
"Especially concerning to the United Church of Christ are those brands and expressions of Christianity that demonize the LGBTQ community," Dorhauer said. "When religion is used as a shield for homophobia, and when religious leaders spew forth hatred, judgment and condemnation, they create a context in which such violence is cultivated."
To counter that, the Florida Conference UCC, in a statement of solidarity, is inviting every authorized minister in the conference to stand with the national leaders of the denomination in a public demonstration, to show that love and acceptance is the true message of the gospel. The gathering, a time of prayer, conversation and show of support, is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. in Orlando.
"We hope to have a sizable contingent of us on hand as we make public witness to the God of compassion while lifting up our solidarity with the LGBTQ community and all people of good will," said the Rev. John Vertigan, UCC Florida Conference minister. "We seek to embody Christ’s call to unity in this time of tragedy."
"As we continue to learn the names of those who perished, it is important for us to pay attention to the stories of who these people were, their hopes and aspirations, and the contribution they made through the lives they lived," said Schuenemeyer. "Such remembrance can serve to remind us that historically the LGBTQ community, among other communities, is not unacquainted with loss and grief both from the recent decades of the HIV epidemic and also from the centuries of violence against us that too frequently have been met with complacency, fear and silence."
The latest incident happened early Sunday morning, June 12, when a gunman armed with an assault rifle and a handgun killed 50 people and injured at least 50 more in the crowded gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, in an act of hate and of terrorism.
"The United Church of Christ again calls for America to act swiftly to produce gun legislation that lowers the risk that someone with an agenda, a distorted view of humanity, a proclivity for violence, and access to automatic weapons can wreak such havoc and destroy so many lives," Dorhauer said. "We are fast growing numb to the experience of processing our collective grief around these mass murders. Political and civic leaders across this country must galvanize our grief and anguish and take direct action to regulate a gun industry that has grown far too powerful."
Following the Orlando demonstration, the Cleveland national offices will be holding a special service at 2:00 p.m. in the Amistad Chapel: Light in the Broken Places: Prayers of Lament, Healing and Courage. It can be viewed, via livestream, on UCC.org.
"The service will be an opportunity for us to express our grief, offer our prayers and express our ongoing solidarity with the LGBTQ community that was targeted," said the Rev. Jim Moos, executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries. "In the midst of tears, grief and anger, we will cling to love and hope and non-violent action. We are called to be agents of God’s just and peaceable realm, may our response to this tragedy be worthy of that calling."
"June is known as Pride month and the earliest pride events were courageous public witness about our lives, the determination to live openly and boldly work toward a vision of communities that are safe for everyone to call home; in which we attain full equality and justice for all," Schuenemeyer said. "As somber and sorrowful as these events are, we must engage in ‘courage in the struggle’ that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and buoyed and empowered by positive actions for peace, justice and equality. It is the best way for us to honor and celebrate those we've lost."
Check this list of UCC prayer vigils for Orlando planned in churches around the country.