[Episcopal News Service] On Dec. 10, the Diocese of Missouri observed a day of gun violence awareness with a presentation on firearm safety and a letter writing campaign, as well as an ecumenical prayer vigil lamenting the lives lost and affected by firearms.
The vigil was a collaboration between the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The highlight of the diocese’s gun violence awareness day was the prayer vigil at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis, which included local religious leaders from seven faith traditions remembering those who’ve lost their lives or have been victimized by firearms.
“Each one of us, no matter who we are, are all affected by the residual gun violence in our communities, our neighborhoods, and in our towns and cities. So, we gather tonight in the spirit of hope,” Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson said during his opening remarks at the vigil.
The Very Rev. Kathie Adams-Shepherd, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, is familiar with gun violence. In her reflection during the vigil, she spoke about her time serving as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut. While a rector there in 2012, a shooter killed 20 children and six adult educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Two of the children who died in the mass shooting were members of Trinity. Adams-Shepherd remembers baptizing one of them, as well as providing pastoral care to parishioners in the shooting’s aftermath.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook, Adams-Shepherd lobbied for gun safety legislation in Connecticut and in Washington, D.C.
“It didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened on the federal level yet,” she said during the vigil. “In fact, here in Missouri, the laws have diminished in my time here, resulting in more deaths, juveniles with access to weapons walking legally down the streets of St. Louis and children killing children.”
On average, 1,351 people die by guns every year in Missouri. The state has the seventh highest rate of gun-related deaths — 22.3 deaths per 100,000 — in the United States, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Nationally, approximately 43,375 people die by guns annually.
Despite having one of the highest gun violence rates in the country, Missouri continues to have some of the weakest gun laws, including allowing people to publicly carry firearms without a permit or safety training. Additionally, Missouri has no law requiring background checks on unlicensed gun sales, as well as no law prohibiting known domestic abusers from owning guns, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a U.S.-based nonprofit committed to advocating against gun violence.
Other vigil participants included Archbishop Mitchell Rozansky, prelate of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis; the Rev. Ryan J. Landino, presbytery leader of Presbytery Giddings-Lovejoy, a regional council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Brandon Bezzant, St. Louis Stake president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Rev. Linden Bowie, president of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri; Bishop Robert Farr of the Missouri Area of the United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Jill Seagle, pastor of St. Thomas/Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in St. Louis.
The vigil concluded with the congregation gathering in the parish hall for fellowship and for the opportunity to participate in a letter writing campaign asking the Missouri Legislature to support gun violence prevention. Congregants also learned about the Be SMART gun safety education program, which the diocese offers to all its 41 parishes. They also received a free gun lock from Lock It for Love, the only volunteer-based program in the St. Louis area offering gun safety education and free gun locks.
“For every life that is not lost … it makes a difference. Even gathering to raise awareness makes a difference,” Johnson said during the vigil.
Learn more about the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri’s gun violence prevention efforts here.