364 United Methodist congregations pray for Newtown

December 19, 2013

December 17, 2013 -- umc-gbcs.org

On Sunday, Dec. 16, 364 United Methodist congregations read the names during worship of the more than two dozen victims of the Newtown, Conn., gun violence that occurred a year ago. The congregations prayed for the victims, mostly six- and seven-year-old children, and their families devastated by one of the worst gun-violence occurrences in U.S. history.

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) prepared a bulletin insert to assist congregations in conducting a worship observance of the tragedy's anniversary. On Dec. 14, last year, 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and six adult staff members were shot and killed by Adam Lanza. He also killed his mother before going to the school.

Bill Mefford, GBCS director of Civil & Human Rights, encouraged congregations to include the bulletin inserts in their Dec. 15 worship materials. He also suggested reading from the pulpit the names and ages of the persons who died during the massacre.

Three hundred and sixty-four churches requested the bulletin insert. It lists the names and ages of the victims, includes a suggested prayer and an excerpt from the United Methodist Resolution on Gun Violence (#3426, Book of Resolutions).

“The number of churches praying for healing for the families and entire community of Newtown remind us that our calling as Christians is always to stand in the gap for those who are devastated by violence,” said Mefford.

Letter to Congress

In conjunction with the worship observance, GBCS chief executive Jim Winkler sent a letter to members of Congress on Monday, Dec. 16, informing them that tens of thousands of United Methodists were praying for them.

“They were praying that you would have the courage to do the right thing and endorse common-sense proposals that will not impinge on anyone's rights, and will save lives — especially the lives of our children,” Winkler wrote.

The important policies Winkler asked the members of Congress to publicly endorse include:
• Universal background checks on all gun sales without exceptions;
• Strong, rigorous ban on assault weapons; and
• Ban high-capacity magazines that carry more than 10 bullets.

“There have been far too many tragedies due to unlimited access to dangerous weapons,” Winkler wrote. “More than 10,000 people have died just since the gun shooting in Newtown. Every victim is a heartbreaking reminder that we still have not done enough to end gun violence in the United States today.”

A moral necessity

Winkler described the issue as a "moral necessity." He encouraged members of Congress to stand with United Methodists and many other people of faith, as well as with elected leaders and with law enforcement, "all of whom who support these simple steps.”

The back of the insert challenges congregation members to put their faith into action. It lists startling facts about the environment contributing to the nation's recurring incidences of gun violence, and suggests steps to take to prevent it.

Foremost among the steps, according to Mefford, is prayer and reflection.

“Prayer is necessary and always leads to change,” Mefford emphasized. “With thousands more dying from senseless gun violence since the Newtown tragedy, we desperately need a change in our attitudes and approaches towards ending gun violence. Prayer will provide that first step towards real and lasting change."

Prayer changes people

Mefford stressed that prayer not only changes things around people, but it also can change the people themselves. “Right now, prayer is definitely needed,” he said, citing four reasons:
• Pray for the healing of the families and community of Newtown, Conn.
• Pray for the more than 10,000 people who have died due to gun violence since the Newtown shootings.
• Pray for courage for churches to insist that something be done to stop gun violence, and
• Pray for courage for our elected leaders to take the steps necessary to do so.

The bulletin insert is free and can be downloaded in .pdf format (Adobe Acrobat) from the GBCS website at Remembering Newtown’s Victims (http://umc-gbcs.org/content/general/newtownbulletin.pdf).

For more information, Bill Mefford can be contacted via email at bmefford@umc-gbcs.org.

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.