Dear colleagues and partners in ministry:
I greet you with a heavy heart and a mix of many deep emotions, but I also greet you in the faith of the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian Christians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
The tragedy of the violence and murder in the middle of a group of peaceful people who were gathered for worship and prayer is something that numbs the senses and challenges the powers of reason to even begin to understand. We are deeply concerned and offer our prayers when there are these kind of tragedies in Colorado or other settings, but to have this kind of violence right in our midst, near several of our own UCC congregations, brings the reality home so painfully and powerfully.
I will not even begin to try to offer any commentary on what has happened. It would be disrespectful to the families who have lost loved ones and to those who have been wounded and are fighting for their lives or dealing with pain and the trauma of the experience. I do appreciate the response of the police and other rescue and personnel, and I am grateful to all in this work who daily deal with risks to their safety and lives that most of us will never know. We owe a great deal to those who commit themselves to these challenging professions.
I know nothing about the person who committed these acts. No doubt, much will be researched and written, but even then, we seldom are able to plumb the depths of the human mind and spirit that would commit this kind of violence. I do know from news reports that the Sikh community (about 700,000 persons nationwide) has increasingly been the target of harassment and attacks, because somehow people perceive them as connected to terrorism and the ”9/11″ attacks. Here is one place that all of us can take personal responsibility, both as individuals and as leaders of our own religious communities, to do all we can to learn about other religions and cultural groups, to respect diversity and differences and to understand a bit of the history of people whose practices and traditions are different from our own.
In the spirit with which the Apostle Paul greeted the early Christians, we can engage in one of our most important Christian vocations, prayer. We can pray for each family that lost a loved one and ask for that “comfort” that is promised to us in the love of God and shown to us in Christ, a love that is for ALL people and offered with extravagant generosity to all.
We can pray for healing for those hospitalized or injured and healing of the spirit for all who were present or connected to this religious community, that they may find ways to restore peace in their minds and hearts. We can pray that they will find the well of hope and trust and, yes, even and eventually, forgiveness and thus be set free from the ways in which these horrific experiences can contract the spirit and life.
Our prayers can be for the communities impacted and for the fear and anxiety that is now heightened in those responders as they go to their next call. May our prayers be sent to God that God may offer them strength in their work and confidence that those whom they serve respect their gifts to us and offer hope for their safety.
We may pray for our nation and all its communities and all citizens that we may move beyond our current moment that is so divided and so susceptible to fear of differences and hatred and disregard of human life, and pray that God may again gift us with the spirit to build genuine community and to seek a body politic that can live in diversity and seek genuine solutions to our problems.
Yesterday I was in a worship service that sang the New Century Hymnal variation on the Katharine Lee Bates hymn, “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.” The new words are by Miriam Therese Winter, and the third verse, being sung as this tragedy was unfolding and without our knowledge as we worshipped, are ones for us to sing as our prayer:
How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears
The courage called for to repent the bloodshed through the years
America! America! God grant that we may be
A nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty.
I would call to your attention a couple statements of religious groups to which we belong and which we as a UCC in Wisconsin support. I have included a link to the statement from the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Council of Churches sent the following link for information on the Sikh religion. (www.sikhs.org) The WCC has also promised further information on possible prayer gatherings to be organized around the state.
Thank you for your ministries of comfort and prayer in these times.
Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ