It began with 10 people killed in a Buffalo supermarket. The shooter drove hours to target this location in the heart of the black community. The intentionality, the powerful weapon that causes mass death in minutes, was all too familiar. Like most Americans, and especially as an African American, my heart was broken. While still wrapping my head and heart around the Buffalo massacre, the Uvalde school shooting happened. 19 children. 2 teachers. The ineptness of the police. The horror of little bodies destroyed beyond recognition by exploding bullets. I cried for days. I’m still crying.
Yet, I was silent. I was silent because I live in Chicagoland, and the weekend following Uvalde, there were 50 people shot in Chicago. I was silent because Chicago is the reference for anti-gun detractors. Chicago is the national example for why gun legislation doesn’t work. I was silentbecause I am the presbytery executive, and the church that I serve and love is not officially present in conversations about legislation, policing, or other steps to end gun violence in Chicago. I was silent because I didn’t know what to do. What can I do? I’m only one voice. My silence led to despair.
I reached out to Rev. Beth Brown of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. Beth had sent a request that we publicize an event being held June 22nd at the Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverside. This clergy “Die-In” (instead of “sit in”) is a public demonstration against gun violence. Beth said, “Craig, sometimes we just need to show up.” I understood showing up to mean I will have to bepresent. But I also heard “we” to mean the Presbytery of Chicago has to show up. We must find a seat at the table of justice.
Beth also mentioned that this Friday, June 17th will be an anti-violence rally at St. SabinasChurch, on Chicago’s Southside. This rally is to kick off the Summer of Peace marches. Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabinas said, “Brothers and sisters, we can’t just get overwhelmed and angry; we must take action.” I plan to participate in this event. Being at these events involves getting out there and taking a risk. Risk taking and experimentation will be a critical part of ministry for the post-COVID church.
Furthermore, beginning today, the Connect will have a section for social justice. This will contain activities that Presbyterians can participate in around Chicagoland. They will include anti-racism, ecojustice, and anti-violence activities. My hope is that the presbytery will be involved in justice at several levels, from marching to writing, from dramatic protests to prayer.
Simultaneously, we will still create New Worshiping Communities, support our small and large congregations, attract and install excellent pastors, and provide teaching and learning opportunities for everyone. The presbytery can continue to do these things while participating in justice in Chicagoland.
May the Presbytery of Chicago live into the Biblical narrative of God’s shalom, Jesus’ Kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit’s leading. And let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Rev. Craig Howard