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United Methodists respond to Annapolis shooting

July 2, 2018


Five candles burn on the altar at Calvary UMC in Annapolis July 1, during a Community Vigil for Peace. Photo 
by Melissa Lauber.

By Erik Alsgaard

On Thursday, June 28, life in Annapolis changed forever. That’s the day a lone gunman entered the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper and killed five people. The dead were identified in published reports as Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, and John McNamara.

Even as the community reeled at the news of the tragedy, the remaining staff at the Gazette continued their work, putting out a paper the next day.

One of the first responders to the shooting was the Rev. Carletta Allen, pastor of Asbury UMC in Annapolis. Allen serves as a chaplain with the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Department and was on call June 28. When the call came in, she said, she raced home, changed in to her uniform, and went to the scene where she stayed for about three hours.

“Even if I hadn’t been on call, I would have gone,” Allen said. “This is my neighborhood; I live here.”

The Rev. Carletta Allen
The Rev. Carletta Allen. Photo
by Wendi Winters/Capital Gazette

 Allen, who has been a chaplain for four years, said that when she walks into a scene like the one at the Gazette, she does triage. 

 “Where can I be of the most help?” she said, is the question she asks. “A lot of the ministry of a chaplain is a ministry of presence. I never cease to be amazed at how grateful people are just that you’re there. That   really is a lot.”

 Her presence as a chaplain, Allen believes, is a tangible sign of hope, and that, she said, “is the greatest gift we can give.”

 After checking in with “brass,” she said, to make sure they were doing okay, Allen began to walk around the scene, checking in with every officer along the way. Some of them, she said, had been out in the middle of   the street directing traffic for hours without a break, without a drink of water or any food.

 “They were sweaty, they were exhausted,” Allen said. “I just asked them some simple, care-taking questions. And they always say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine,’ but it’s the fact that you asked, that you care about their well-being,   that’s important.”

As she made her rounds, Allen said, there were a lot of deer-in-headlights looks. “Nobody ever expects it to happen to them,” she said. “And it did. It happened to them.”

These are fearful times, Allen said, and she feels for people who don’t have any hope. At the root of it all, Allen sees pain: pain that leads to addiction; pain that leads to suicide; pain that leads to anger and outbursts.

“The uncertainty that results from a workplace shooting just rocks people to their core,” Allen said. “The sense of ‘Where am I safe?’ is lost.”

A Prayer for the Perpetrators of Violence

Community Vigil for Peace, July 1, 2018, Calvary UMC

By the Rev. Michelle Mejia* (used by permission of the author)

 

Beloved, Jesus tells his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:44.

So, in that spirit, let us now pray for the perpetrators of violence, including Jarrod Ramos, who took the lives of five individuals in his targeted attack at the Capital Gazette:

God over Golgotha, that place where Jesus died: when senseless acts of violence occur, we have to admit that praying for those who seek to harm, who aim to kill others, who take away the gift of life that you give, is incredibly difficult. It goes against everything that we think and feel and want in this moment.

But we remember that Jesus, in the place of Golgotha, even on the cross, spent one of his precious dying breaths to speak words of loving-kindness over those who crucified him. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And so, he lived and died staying true to what he asks of others. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

So, for those who harm others, and who seek to do harm in this world, we pray, O God.

We remember them, and all who love them. We remember that their lives too are devastated, and their hopes dashed. We know that the pain from each act of violence, like the ripples of a stone cast in a pond, travel in many different directions.

Those who perpetrate violence, like the violence in our town last Thursday, are casualties of their own anger, their own hatred, their own bitterness, their own deep woundedness that has been festering and become infected. They, too, are in need of your grace, your love, and your healing light.

They know not what they do.

Help them see what they do. Help them recognize the ripples of suffering and pain that have been caused by the stones they threw. The guns they shot. By their own actions.

Not only do they not know what they do, they do not know what they need. And so we pray with Jesus, “Father, forgive them.” May that forgiveness begin to disarm their anger and hatred, dismantle their bitterness, demolish their desire to harm, undo their pain. May that forgiveness be a healing balm that begins to mend and transform the broken places and pain in our own lives.

Holy Spirit, who filled Jesus even on the cross at Golgotha, keeps us from casting our own stones of anger and hatred and bitterness and retaliation. Especially the stones that we would justify in your name, through our own sense of justice and righteousness.

Darkness cannot drive our darkness. Only light can do that.

May we be your light. May we be catchers and not casters of stones.

May we learn to love and forgive the way that you have and do.

May our work for justice include loving our enemies and praying for those who would persecute or harm us.

May our presence bring healing to this world.

In the name of Jesus the Christ, may it be so / so be it. Amen.

*The Rev. Michelle Mejia is the pastor of Eastport UMC in Annapolis

Speaking on the day after the shooting, Allen said that she was sick, angry and heartbroken. “I literally yelled out loud when they read the names (of the deceased), because I knew Wendi; Wendi was a friend. It’s just so wrong. The people are just getting shot down, at work, in the movie theater, in the mall; it’s crazy.”

On the Sunday after the shooting, Allen said she was going to preach about the safety and security that only Jesus can bring. They were going to sing Gospel songs and offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Those prayers continued Sunday night, as about 150 United Methodists gathered at Calvary UMC in Annapolis. The Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold, lead pastor, put the service together and about a dozen United Methodist clergy responded. Five white candles – one for each of the deceased – flickered on the altar as prayers were offered for them, for the perpetrator (see sidebar), for the first responders, for those suffering mental health issues, for the community, and more.

“There really is something powerful that happens when God’s people pray,” said Wilkins-Arnold as she welcomed worshipers. “I’m sorry that we’re here, but I’m proud that we’re here.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling brought words of hope and comfort to a grieving community, saying that we all have suffered a great loss. Naming each of the deceased out loud, Bishop Easterling said that even though she did not know them personally, by the fact that all people are children of God, “these are our brothers and sisters. Our human family has suffered a great loss.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling offers a prayer during the Community Vigil
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling offers a prayer during the Community Vigil
for Peace at Calvary UMC July 1. Photo by Melissa Lauber.

The bishop said that her concern was not so much with those who were weeping and crying, but with those do not or who can not.

“When we can no longer cry, feel pain or sorrow, we have entered a very dangerous place,” the bishop said. “Then we are becoming numb to the loss of life and indifferent to human suffering.”

When that happens, then it is time to disengage and disconnect, and to find a quiet place and surrender to God almighty, she said, and breathe deeply from the spirit of God and to be healed from the inside out.

The bishop spoke directly to the clergy gathered at the vigil, noting that they, too, are first responders and that they need to take care of themselves.

“Hear me now,” she said. “If you are one who ministers, and you find yourself right now numb to these tragedies, seek the aid of persons who can help you work through your layered burdens. We are first responders of a different sort, called upon to pray with, sit with, listen to and hold the unspeakable pain of persons in life’s worst moments. We hear utterances that others don’t have to hear. We are called upon to hold pain that others are not called to hold. Find a trained sojourner to help you recalibrate and release because if we think that we are above acting out of our pain, we are mistaken.”

Using Isaiah 2:2-5, Bishop Easterling said this passage was very beautiful in its image of nations not learning war anymore, and beating swords into plow shares, yet it has a costly call attached to it. It’s costly, the bishop said, because it is prophetic and won’t occur until we, God’s people, live our lives differently every day and live in the full submission to the will of God. The question, the bishop said, is whether God’s people will be faithful in their lives every day because God will certainly be faithful to God’s promises every day.

“I believe that every day, we are either contributing to, or detracting from, that blessed gathering of the saints,” Bishop Easterling said. “We are either working for it or detracting from it.”

Lives are either sermons of The Way, or sermons of the world, the bishop said. “The way in which we live is either pointed to lift up the name of Jesus and thereby drawing all person unto Jesus, or we are stumbling blocks to that process.”

If we want the peace and “shalom” that this passage promises, the bishop said, “then we have to already be living that reality now and point others towards it. This is not some magical thing that will happen with the wave of a magic wand, and folks will suddenly lay down their weapons and beat them into plow shares. No. This is a reality that they must be called to … that they must seek and find so much more appealing than the call of the world that they will begin want what others have.”

How we are treating each other right now matters, the bishop said. “We cannot claim this passage of Scripture to assuage our grief and comfort our wound and then leave this sanctuary and return to lives of cruelty and cussing one another out,” the bishop said. “We cannot claim this Scripture and try to hold on to the promises that it has for us and then still live like people beneath the dignity of almighty God.”

The bishop ended her words by calling people of faith to become peacemakers, “modeling a different way every day of our lives.”

The prayer vigil ended with a time of Communion, served by eight youth from Calvary UMC. 

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