Churches host vigil, urge action against gun violence

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CHAPEL HILL — More than two weeks after the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, two Chatham County churches hosted a prayer vigil gathering for the community last Thursday.

The “Swords into Plowshares” service, hosted by Chapel in the Pines and The Local Church and held at the former’s sanctuary, was a powerful reminder of the need for healing in the wake of traumatic incidents. More than 60 people gathered in the church to sing hymns, read scripture and be in the presence of one another during this challenging time.

The service was led by Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman, Chapel in the Pines’ pastor, and Rev. Brent Levy, pastor of The Local Church. Both said the service was a time for communal lament with a call to action.

“If someone is hungry, feed them,” Levy said. “Transfer fear into love.”

Levy said the night was about turning darkness into light through the power of communal healing.

The service began with offerings of peace through scripture. The most moving portion of the night, though, came when nine community members — including school teachers, clergy and church members — participated in a “Litany in the wake of a mass shooting.” Song leaders played the hymn “Drive Out the Darkness” while the community leaders read out a list of mass shootings and the number of people killed at each location. From Sandy Hook, to Parkland and all the way up through present-day in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa.

“Give to the departed eternal rest,” the leader said following each tragedy. “Let light perpetual shine upon them,” the congregation said in response.

As the readers traded places, a chorus of voices would sing “drive out the darkness,” each time seemingly louder than the previous.

This litany was a solemn reminder of the long-lasting epidemic of gun violence throughout the country. From schools to community centers to grocery stores, there are few institutions untouched by this American horror story.

After reading a list of the shootings, participants were encouraged to write prayers for peace on note cards and many were anointed with oil on the backs of their hands.

“May our addiction to judgment be released,” one prayer read. “May we be freed from our fears; may we dwell simply and with the grace and gratitude in the love of God.”

Taylor-Troutman and Levy also used the service as a platform to call on the attendees to push for action against gun violence by providing literature from advocacy organizations including Moms Demand Action and the Sojourners organization.

“Members need to hear our voices as they craft common sense and popular gun safety protections,” the literature from Sojourners read.

Levy said the occasion of prayer was the perfect time to ask for change. He added that he believed God would not want people to live in a society of violence and fear.

“One does not pray in lieu of summoning political courage,” Levy said. “But rather in preparation for doing so. Your participation is needed.”

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of senators — including North Carolina Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr — agreed to take some action on gun violence. The potential bill includes “needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons,” the senators said in a statement.

The legislation does include a red flag provision, with the government providing “resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others,” according to the statement.

The bill, however, does not ban any guns, including semi-automatic rifles, ban high capacity magazines, raise the age to buy a semi-automatic to 21 or require background checks. The bill is considered, by many gun control activist groups, including March for Our Lives, a step in the right direction.

The text of the legislation has not been written but is likely to pass given it has the support of 10 Republican senators, meaning it could override a potential filibuster.

Prior to the announcement of the potential legislation Sunday, at the service, Levy said he believes enacting positive change on gun violence would be reminding the church what it means to be the church.

“We need a radical transformation of us into tools of love,” Levy said. “A radical revisioning of what will be in the future. Independence transformed into cooperation, skepticism into curiosity, idolatry into sacrifice for the common good, clenched fists into open palms, fear transformed into love.”

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @b_rappaport.

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