(From the inscription on the memorial for Isaiah Emon Shoels, murdered by teenaged gunmen at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.)
The following reflection is offered by Rev. Bob Davidson, EPF National Executive Committee Chair, and primary organizer of the Remember and Renew Weekend commemoration for the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine High School gun massacre. EPF and all of our pilgrims are grateful for Fr. Bob’s vision for these events, and his flawless delivery of impactful speakers and preachers, and all the sharing, hospitality, and transformative connection which this sacred time allowed.
“There isn’t a day that I don’t wonder if I’ll come home alive from school.”
One of our youth narrators, whose name was Troy and who was 12 years of age, offered this disturbing inner fear while reading the memorial plaque of one of the 14 Columbine students and one teacher who were murdered on April 20, 1999. Several dozen of us walked solemnly around the Columbine Memorial where thirteen of the victims are remembered in a hour and one-half Vigil during a Saturday afternoon of the Columbine Pilgrimage on April 27th.
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, along with nearly 20 other faith and community-based co-sponsors, marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings as one of our Year of Action events during our 80th anniversary of the founding of EPF.
Beginning on Friday, April 26 a panel kicked off the weekend that included two gun violence prevention activists, a physician focusing on public health implications and two men whose lives have been scarred by gun violence in their own Latino community. Nathan, who is serving time due to killing someone following a robbery was 14 when he was incarcerated two years earlier. Another anti-gang advocate, Cisco, who came out of the Barrio to now work with others caught in gun violence gave a sobering insight. “For a time I believed carrying a gun would keep me safer. It did just the opposite as I became a greater target because of my weapon.”
The Iliff (Methodist) School of Theology welcomed three African American faith leaders to explore the underlying causes of the Culture of Violence and its root in racism and white supremacy. Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath, professor of Social Justice and Pastoral Care at the school who spoke about “uninterrogated whiteness” and the disparities of how our culture responds to gun violence in communities of color as opposed to white communities of privilege. Another panelist, Rev. Jasper Peters, shared that as a young black man he had attended the funeral of the only African American student, Isaiah Shoels, who was killed at Columbine. As he viewed Isaiah’s body in the casket robed in his cap and gown he would have received in three weeks after the killings, the panelist lamented, “He had done everything right as a black child and family yet gun violence still found a way to cut him down”. The Rev. Kym Lucas, soon to be consecrated Bishop of Colorado, spoke to the contrast of contempt and de-humanization in violence with the call of the Beloved Community to witness to racial healing and justice.
Following a Saturday morning workshop at St. John’s Cathedral co-sponsored by EPF and Bishops United Against Gun Violence titled, “Finding Your Voice: Advocacy for Gun Violence Prevention”, the weekend events moved closer to the outlying communities where the Columbine massacre had taken place in Littleton, Colorado. A networking luncheon and workshops at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church was interrupted by news that Jewish worshippers had been shot at the Chabad of Poway congregation. As we circled with hands held, Bishop Dan Edwards (BUAGV member) lead us in prayer and solidarity by inviting each of us to name one word we could offer in this tragedy. It was a sober reminder that the work of gun violence prevention has an urgency when daily lives are taken and wounded, even while our weekend pilgrimage was happening.
Probably the most deeply moving event of the pilgrimage followed our late afternoon Vigil at the Columbine Memorial. From the Memorial pilgrims could see the school where the carnage took place twenty years earlier so close to this sacred ground. As is true in all shootings, two other students lost their lives on that fateful day whose names were Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the perpetrators of the violence who are not memorialized there. Our pilgrimage wanted to also acknowledge the pain and anguish that these boy’s families continue to suffer. During a meal and time of reflection at a Unitarian Universalist congregation whose pastor had been first on the scene at Columbine, ALL victims and perpetrators of violence were remembered during a moving ceremony of song and heartfelt sharing.
The trauma following the Columbine shootings lead to a number of copy-cat shootings, suicides and a testimony we heard from a Lutheran pastor, Don Marxhausen who presided over the funeral for one of the shooters. Because his congregation opposed this outreach to the Klebold family, Don was forced to leave his congregation. Listening to Don preach at Sunday morning worship in an Episcopal parish, it became clear that faith communities are not always willing to have a prophetic witness in the face of cultural forces that deny the gospel of love. Even later on Sunday as a youth choir lifted their voices to affirm a world free from gun violence and survivors gave their stories of recovering from gun violence, the courageous task ahead seemed more and more daunting.
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship was instrumental in mobilizing local and national supporters of gun violence prevention rallying around the twentieth anniversary of a school shooting that still is etched into our nation’s consciousness. The enduring connections made by co-sponsors and pilgrims of this Year of Action event will live on to hopefully multiply the weekend’s impact long into the years ahead.
EPF will now continue its pilgrimage celebrating our Year of Action to events focused around civil rights and racial reconciliation and the cause of justice for Palestinian and American Muslim communities. We hope you will consider your own pilgrimage to these events as you learn about them, but also that you will provide the support for EPF to continue to shine the gospel of peacemaking into often dark places of violence, bigotry and oppression.
Rev. Bob Davidson
Fr. Bob Davidson, primary organizer of our Remember and Renew weekend, moderates the question and answer section of the Iliff School of Theology panel. From the left: Fr. Bob, Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath, Rev. Jasper Peters, and Bishop Elect Kym Lucas of the Diocese of Colorado. Dr. Leath made the astute observation that “Racism is America’s favorite and primordial form of violence.”
Our visit to the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park in Littleton was narrated by young school children from various Denver schools, and Moms Demand Action, one of our weekend co-sponsors. It was hard to hear the stories of the young lives lost, read by children. Lord, have mercy.
A note left at the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park from the community of Newtown, CT. Heartbreaking.
On Sunday afternoon, as part of our memorial service at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, CO, the Mennonite group “RAWtools, Inc. Disarm Hearts, Forge Peace” blacksmithed a gun into a garden implement, which was placed on the altar during the service. We ain’t gonna study war no more.
EPF pilgrims Rev. Bob Davidson, Bob Lotz (EPF Gun Violence Prevention Action Group Convener), Maryann Philbrook, Rev. Kay Houck, Ellen Lindeen, and Melanie Atha gather after a challenging testimonial offered by Rev. Don Marxhausen at St. Timothy Episcopal Church on Sunday. We are grateful for Rev. Nick Myers for the opportunity to worship with St. Timothy and for his leadership for so many of our events over the weekend.
EPF NEC member Rev. Michael Kurth offered an inspiring homily during Morning Prayer on Saturday, as the NEC gathered to conduct the business of EPF during our Remember and Renew Weekend.
Reflection for Morning Prayer on the Saturday of Easter, Year C
The Rev. Michael B.E. Kurth
Reading: John 16:16-33
Our text from John comes from the end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse (the speech or teachings Jesus gives his disciples before his Passion). His words are some of the final teachings he leaves with his disciples. Jesus knows the road ahead will be painful, so he helps them ponder hope in the midst of sorrow. He also leaves the disciples with a word of peace: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” “In me.” In Jesus. In the one we believe to be the son of God, you may have peace.
As Christian peacemakers, our peace begins with Jesus. How beautiful a moment at the national executive council dinner last night, when Bob gifted Melanie with the beautiful gold peace cross, an heirloom from his family. It was a reminder to me that in order to do this work we have been given to do, we must literally put Jesus first, in front of us and on our hearts.
In some ways, donning that cross of peace is akin to the armor of God described in the Letter to the Ephesians. Jesus knows the hardships the disciples will face. He alludes to the “scattering” at his death. He knows there will be great disbelief in his resurrection after death. He knows that persecution will continue once Jesus has ascended to the Father and left them to spread the gospel. He knows that in the hours before his death, he needs his disciples to be close to him – and the same will be needed of them after his Easter resurrection.
Today is Saturday in Easter week. And I must admit: I love the Easter octave. It is a time in the Christian calendar when we are asked specifically to give our presence and proximity to Christ. There are two weeks in our liturgical calendar that prescribe specific lections and collects for daily weekday Eucharists: Holy Week and Easter Week. These are two weeks that we are called to be close with Christ, to have Jesus by our side in all that we do.
Before his death, Jesus reminds his disciples “You do not always have me with you.” This is true in Holy Week, the time leading up to Jesus’ death, and so we worship and spend time with Jesus in Gethsemane and at Calvary. But it is also true that we do not always have Jesus in bodily from after he is resurrected from the dead. In the days after his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and followers, breaks bread with them, and ascends to the Father, leaving them (and us) with the Holy Spirit. We do not always have Jesus in front of us, and thus in Easter week, knowing that Jesus is alive and has broken the powers of death, we are called to be close to him, side-by-side, celebrating his victory and worshiping his holy name.
And so I come back to that poignant image yesterday of Melanie putting on the cross of peace, and I think about all of us as disciples, wanting to be close to Jesus, putting Jesus in the forefront of all that we do this Easter week and beyond. And I ask: what is going on in your thoughts as we listen to Jesus’ final teachings? Think of your life as a disciple, your ministry as a peacemaker, and your leadership in EPF: are you afraid of what is to come? Are you confused, unsure of what Jesus is asking you to do? Are you wondering how to best live into your ministry as a peacemaker?
Jesus doesn’t give answers to the disciples. He doesn’t speak plainly to the events that are to come, and frankly, that makes some disciples pretty mad, because we ALL want specifics.
Rather: he tells them to abide in him. It is in Jesus we find our peace. It is by Jesus that there is peace. And it is with Jesus that we can get beyond sinful selves, our troubled souls, and bring peace to this world.
In our conversations today, and in our ministry to come when we scatter from this place, I want us to consider the following: how can we put the loving, liberating, life-giving Way of Jesus Christ at the forefront of our ministry as peacemakers? How can a pacifist, Palestinian Jew be our model for bringing peace into this world?
Might I be so bold to say Jesus may not provide any clear answers to us today. But we’ve been given a directive: to abide in him.
Let all our work point to the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus Christ. In him we will find everlasting peace and the joy of full reconciliation with God and with one another.
Our upcoming schedule:
Even as I write this, we are driving east to be in Nashville for our son, Tate’s, graduation from college on May 10. We have had some EPF stops along the way, including wonderful and inspiring visits with St. Michael’s in Little Rock, AR and Calvary in Memphis, TN. I will provide full updates on those visits next week, since we wanted to dedicate this edition to our Remember and Renew weekend. Looking forward, we have:
May 14: St. Ann’s, Nashville, TN
May 16: St. John’s, Knoxville, TN
June 19: Juneteenth event with Fellowship of Reconciliation, location TBD
June 27-29: Washington, DC “Love God, Love Neighbor: Advocacy in Action”
July 12-13: Big Provincial Gathering, Province V, Kalamazoo, MI
August 8: St. Andrew’s, Birmingham, AL
August 9-10: Commemoration of Jonathan Daniels and Martyrs of Alabama
Visit to Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and
Justice, Montgomery and Hayneville, AL
Sept. 4: Bp. Paul Jones feast day, location TBD
Oct 13-24 Palestine
Nov. 11: EPF 80th Anniversary, Providence, RI
Nov. 14-16: Borderland Ministry Summit, St. Stephen’s, Tucson, AZ
Dec. 22: National Day of Reparations (FOR) TBD
Are you near any of our planned stops and want to visit? Just shout! epfactnow
Until next time,
power to the peaceful!
I love how we love each other! On the Friday of our Remember and Renew weekend, the EPF NEC honored me with a reception to celebrate the beginning of my time as Executive Director. Rev. Bob Davidson, current EPF National Chair, surprised me with the most lovely gift: an EPF coss which had been his father’s. Fr. Bob’s father, Bishop of Western Kansas Rt. Rev. William (Bill) Davidson, was National Chair of EPF from 1986-1989. This special present connects me to EPF’s deep roots, and emboldens me to hold a hopeful vision for our future effective action. Thank you, Bob+, for this most precious gift.
How can we support EPF while Melanie is on the road?