Following the tragic events of El Paso and Dayton, like many of us, I was moved as I haven’t been before. This one seemed a little closer to home than the other attacks on innocent lives that have ravaged our nation of late. In his message to the diocese on August 7, Bishop Breidenthal encouraged congregations in the diocese to join with him “in praying for an end to the epidemic of hate and violence that is sweeping our country.” (Letter to diocese, August 7, 2019)
Empowered by the bishop’s words, I thought that holding a prayer vigil in Athens, organized and held at Good Shepherd, could be a way to show our empathy for the victims, for the tragedies, and as a response to the bishop’s call to action. After talking at length with Good Shepherd’s rector, the Rev. Deborah Woolsey, we both decided that a vigil might not be well attended, and moreover, once the vigil is past and the enthusiasm of the moment has faded, we often return to our busy lives, tending to file away the reason we gathered at a vigil.
Mother Deborah told me about a friend of hers, the Rev. Gary Manning, rector of Trinity Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who came up with a way of reminding the people of his community about the power of prayer. He was drawn to a prayer that speaks to violence and hate in Stanley Hauerwas’ collection of sermons and prayers, “Disrupting Time” (2004). Manning had portions of that prayer printed on a banner that he placed on an outside wall of his church. He has found that whenever he enters the church and when he walks outside the church, he sees the banner and prays the words. And that people from his city also see the banner, stop to read it, and become moved by the powerful words of the prayer.
The prayer by Stanley Hauerwas reads:
We pray for the end of killing…. Make those who die, and those who kill real for us, that we might join one another in that long mourners’ bench called history…. Make us incapable of “getting used to it.” Make us burn with the passion of your peace; fire our imaginations with your love… May we learn to fear you more than we fear one another, and so fearing, become for the world your trust.
I found Manning’s blog post about the banner engrossing and was also affected by the prayer. Written sometime before 2004, the prayer continues to speak to us today, perhaps even more so that it did when it was written.
Good Shepherd sits surrounded on all sides by the campus of Ohio University. Having read Manning’s post and Bishop Breidenthal’s challenge to us, I thought Good Shepherd could make a public statement that would encourage conversations both within and outside our church walls. If we had that same prayer printed on a banner and placed it at the front of the church building, we could remind ourselves and our neighbors daily that life and love are the antidotes to killing and hate. In this way of engaging the community, we could begin to address the genuine concern and distress that we all feel about gun violence and legislation in this country, and respond to Bishop Breidenthal’s call “to relate what we have to say about that to our own faith. Nothing much will be gained from us as a faith community unless we do this work.”
In August I asked our vestry for approval to put up a banner like the one Manning has on his church wall. Vestry was unanimous in accepting the proposal. Now as we begin a new academic year, the banner hangs on the front porch of Good Shepherd for everyone to see, to pray, and, we hope, to begin this difficult, but important conversation about gun legislation and the culture of violence and hate.
David Burton serves as senior warden at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens.