Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On March 14th, I am inviting congregations around Iowa to gather and hold a vigil of lamentation for victims of violence across the nation. It is a call sparked by the latest mass shooting in Parkland, and yet the aim is to embrace all victims of violence in prayers that transform us who pray and lead us to hope.
Paul Fromberg, Rector of St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, and the presenter to the Growing Iowa Leaders Day in Marshalltown on March 3rd, frames the concept of hope in this way:
“Hope is not a romantic notion; it is a tough and scrappy thing. Hope is a function of struggle; it is what is built in us when we strive to do hard, scary things. Hope is not so much an emotion as it is a behavior. Hope comes when people set goals, pursue them tenaciously and with real perseverance, and believe they have the ability to achieve them. Hope is not how we feel; it is how we think. Hope means learning to deal with disappointment. Hope needs determination. Hope grows as we make an attempt, fail, and try again. Hope requires us to practice compassion. Hope is not a gauzy feeling that things will somehow work out for us. Hope is about struggle. And hope is about relationships. Hope is what makes friendships last over the long term.”
Events of the past week or so have taken me back to the early days of my priesthood. The last of our class of ten deacons was being ordained priest and I was traveling across the hill to Thousand Oaks to participate. News came on the radio that Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s right hand person had been taken hostage in Lebanon even as he had been sent there to negotiate, on behalf of the Archbishop, the release of others who had been kidnapped.
What is the Christian response, I thought? As a human rights advocate in my early professional life, in communist countries, I would have had a clear path of action. But I had left that behind, and had become a priest. Was I now handcuffed to “thoughts and prayers?” Priests gather people for Eucharistic action. We combine our advocacy with thoughts and prayers and the incarnational nature of Eucharistic worship is what we offer. Yes, God may have rooted me on one spot, and restricted my wanderings to a particular parochial boundary and particular cares to a given community context, but there is an offering, “with angels and archangels” that can be celebrated. And so we started a Eucharist of Intention for the hostages in Lebanon every Tuesday evening until their release.
What was our part in the grand scheme of things? God only knows. It was as equally significant as my years spent being a voice among many for voiceless people in a communist society through advocacy, protest and intervention, as well as a little subterfuge. When the Berlin wall collapsed, we were like those who dream. Economics was the primary blunt instrument upon the wall, but millions of brave souls picked away at it over the decades, and even more prayers had weakened it like a dripping stream of water forges valleys over time.
On such experiences we build our hope for the Prince of Peace to establish the kind of society his prophets envisioned. And I have no doubt that economics will be the blunt instrument, as perhaps we are beginning to see now that a group of children have begun to ask the right questions of our politicians and their relationship to legislation regarding gun safety. I am not however just talking about gun safety, but global security. Peace begins when someone somewhere with power lays down its weapons and decides to study war no more. We do not know what lies on the other side of such an act of vulnerability. We do know however that it is how resurrection happens. It is the way of Jesus.
Let me quote Dr. Fromburg further, “God’s promise is sure: wisdom is justified by her deeds. When we engage the world around us, we are transformed by the engagement. When we press through our fear to see the world as God sees it, we are transformed. When we dare to break the rules, to risk respectability, for the sake of God’s Commonwealth of Peace, we are transformed.”
After Parkland, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral texted me and asked about coming together for a vigil to honor the victims, as we have done since Orlando onwards. The outcome then was to include prayers and remembrances with a scheduled Choral Evensong on Sunday February 18th. I told him I would also like to propose something more consistent. After Easter we're returning together to the holding of a weekly Eucharist of Intention, the focus of which I envision orbiting around our issues with violence. I offer it as a place of respite and a gathering of resolve for those engaging society for the “sake of God’s Commonwealth of Peace.”
Until then, and as we pray for the progress of what seems like a genuine reframing of our legislative thinking of gun safety and the various health issues related to gun safety, I invite you to come together in prayer and to let your light for compassion, peace and hope shine across the state on March 14th.
In the peace and love of Christ,+Alan
The Rt. Rev. Alan ScarfeBishop of Iowa