Lenten ceasefire campaign launches with Ash Wednesday witness in front of White House

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, in Lafayette Park near the White House, national Christian organizations and peacemakers, including the United Church of Christ, launched a weekly Lenten ceasefire campaign.

It started with a Catholic Mass followed by an ecumenical public witness, calling attention to and in mourning for the tens of thousands of lives that have been destroyed in Gaza and Israel since Oct. 7.

In front of the White House, the ecumenical gathering calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“On this Ash Wednesday, we are called as Christians to grapple more fully with the ashes and annihilation happening in Gaza,” said the Rev. Michael Neuroth, director of the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C. “Nearly 30,000 people have been killed, 65,000 injured — and thousands more are unaccounted for. Thousands of buildings have been turned to rubble — to ash. The scale and brutality of the death and destruction is simply overwhelming.”

Neuroth offered a prayer for those suffering: “God who weeps, who bleeds, who cries with and for us, especially for the innocent lives lost, hears our cries for a ceasefire, for peace, for justice, for restoration. Be with all those who are suffering in Gaza, in Israel, and across the region.”

‘A sign of collective guilt’

The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, pastor of First Church UCC in Washington, D.C., administered ashes, while the Rev. Michael Vanacore, pastor of Pilgrim Church UCC in Wheaton, Maryland, played guitar and sang. 

Emily Parker of Cleveland Park Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., participated in reciting lamentation and confession for collective and individual sins against the people of Gaza. 

The Rev. Graylan Halger, pastor emeritus of D.C.’s Plymouth Congregational UCC, marked protesters’ hands with with a cross of red liquid, “as a sign of our collective guilt, but also of a sign of our resistance to the continued bloodshed.” 

Ashes mixed with a red liquid symbolize “our collective guilt,” according to the Rev. Graylan Halger.

In his preceding reflection, Hagler stated, “Reflecting on the rituals of the church, sometimes we have detached the context of what we do from why we do it. These ashes represent children and lives buried in the rubble by America enabling the genocide to go on. We stand against that today. We remind on ourselves that as there’s ashes on our heads, there’s also blood on our hands. 

“We cannot exempt ourselves from what this country is doing; they do it in our name; they do it with our dollars; they do it with our consent. Begin to take away, consciously, your consent to the crimes.”

Time for ceasefire is now

The same day, Neuroth, Hendler-Voss, Parker and other UCC volunteers delivered more than 500 olivewood hearts to members of Congress, symbolizing the thousands of children killed in Gaza since October.

A day earlier, a letter was sent to President Biden calling for a ceasefire, signed by UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, as well as 22 church-based denominational leaders.

The letter was coordinated by Churches for Middle East Peace, of which the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are founding members.

“The time for a comprehensive ceasefire is now,” the heads of communion wrote in the letter. “Every day of continued violence not only increases the death toll in Gaza and the cost to civilians but also fosters further hatred toward Israel and the United States and irreparably damages the moral standing of the United States in the broader Middle East.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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