Colorado pastors urge General Synod action against ‘scourge of gun violence’

The 2023 General Synod of the United Church of Christ will consider 17 resolutions and several bylaw changes when it meets June 30-July 4 in Indianapolis. This is one in a series of articles about them. Full texts of each of the proposed resolutions are available at the General Synod website.

In the wake of the shooting in a Nashville school that took the lives of three children and three adults March 27, another community is left to grieve and mourn.  

The people of Community United Church of Christ in Boulder, Colo. know these feelings all too well, having just passed the two-year anniversary of the King Soopers grocery store shooting. Ten people were killed just a couple blocks from the church in March 2021.  

Two years ago, when Community UCC gathered for an online vigil following the shooting, an attendee described a feeling of hopelessness that nothing would change and all they could do was offer thoughts and prayers.

These words ignited Community UCC’s pastor, the Rev. Nicole Lamarche.

“We said, no — we’re going to do something,” she said. “We can do more than thoughts and prayers. We can do at least one thing to shift this culture of gun violence.”

It didn’t take long. In June 2021, the congregation partnered with other area churches to host a “Guns to Gardens” event that invited community members to safely surrender their unwanted firearms in exchange for gift cards. Together with the organization RAWTools, they turned the guns into garden tools.

“It was our way of saying we can move beyond thoughts and prayers and do some actions that are helpful — taking the scripture from Isaiah literally that we should turn swords into ploughshares,” said the Rev. Jackie Hibbard, associate pastor at Community UCC.

Now, they are helping to bring a resolution to General Synod 34 encouraging others to action.

Examples of items made from guns at Community UCC’s Guns to Gardens event in Boulder, Colo. Photo by Jackie Aragon.

‘No time to be afraid’

The resolution, Affirming Guns to Gardens and Other Gun Violence Prevention Ministries, is sponsored by the Metropolitan Denver Association of the Rocky Mountain Conference. It addresses several types of deaths caused by guns and emphasizes the necessity of responding to the gun violence “epidemic” in the United States.

“It’s not simply the mass shootings,” said Hibbard. “We’ve had members of our congregation who are touched by gun violence through suicide. Just looking at the statistics, of the over 10,000 gun deaths so far in 2023 — which is mind-boggling and terrible — over half are death by suicide.”

Hibbard and Lamarche, who co-wrote the resolution with input from many others, both experienced friends dying by guns at a young age. Growing up, one of Lamarche’s friends accidentally shot and killed his brother while handling a gun in a barn.

The resolution acknowledges such tragedies with a strong sense of urgency: “Though it may be easy to be overwhelmed with the complexity and scope of gun violence prevention, we MUST do something — anything. Peace-making action is required urgently, and there is no time to be afraid.”

It lists a variety of “meaningful actions” that congregations and other UCC settings can do to address “the scourge of gun violence in our country” in a way that makes sense for their contexts.  

Suggestions include:

  • offering gun locks and safes to promote safe storage and handling;
  • raising awareness and fostering education around gun violence;
  • advocating for legislative action on gun control;
  • and supporting broader mental health services.

Swords into ploughshares

The resolution specifically uplifts the ministry of Guns to Gardens.

It describes such initiatives as practical because they reduce unwanted guns; pastoral because they accompany people through what can be a difficult process; and prophetic by demonstrating “the biblical vision that God creates us to live in gardens, not battlefields.”

In a UCC webinar that highlighted these gun violence ministries, the Rev. Mike Martin, founder and director of RAWTools, shared that following Community UCC’s gun buy-back event, councilmembers from the cities of Aurora and Denver reached out to him and scheduled eight more.

At Community UCC, trained volunteers used chop saws to cut apart guns. “Now, for our congregation, a chop saw is a ritual item,” said the Rev. Nicole Lamarche. Photo by Jackie Aragon.

He estimated that altogether, these events collected almost 1,300 firearms to become garden tools.

“Our congregation isn’t huge, but what an impact,” Lamarche said. “We inspired sister churches. The Denver Broncos even did a thing. We had an impact that’s spreading. What an invitation for a church that’s any size to become a catalyst for something so much bigger than you.

“That’s how you know it’s Spirit led — when things are amplified in this mystical way beyond what makes sense.”

‘Bring hope in the world’

Hibbard said she never envisioned bringing a resolution to Synod, being someone who often feels comfortable staying in the background. But she reflected that “we can’t be in the background anymore.”

Bringing this to General Synod is part of taking action and inspiring hope.

“I do what I can do to make a difference in my corner of the world,” she said. “Whether it’s writing this resolution and going to Indianapolis of all places to talk about it, doing workshops, wearing my little pendant of recycled gun material, talking to people about this — whatever little things I can do to bring hope in the world, I have to hold onto that.”

“I would love if people did feel hope,” Lamarche said. “I think hope is contagious. We will come to Synod with hope. Maybe others will hold it and catch it somehow.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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