Disciple: Getting to Work
The Gun Violence Prevention Task Force offers new resources that invite all to get involved
By Christine McTaggart
On June 26, the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman and the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishops of the Diocese of North Carolina, issued a pastoral letter. The letter followed response after response to the spate of mass shootings that took place over the course of only a few weeks. Thoughts and prayers were always present, as was the acknowledgement that they alone were not enough.
It was time to take action.
“It is time to step outside our comfort zone,” the bishops said in the letter. “It is time to put our thoughts and prayers into action. It is time to bear witness in the public square that our country’s tolerance of inaction to this violence is itself a form of collusion with such violence. This is our call as followers of Jesus. This is what it means to become a disciple, making a difference.”
Following that statement, they announced the creation of a new task force, one dedicated to the reduction and prevention of gun violence. It was charged with exploring areas and issues where the Diocese of North Carolina might affect change, either in a leadership role or in partnership with others.
The task force convened for the first time in late June, and by the time the meeting concluded, the initial areas of focus were identified:
- Identify advocacy opportunities
- Explore partnerships with organizations already engaged in the work of reducing gun violence
- Educate around the role of mental illness, behavioral health challenges and other factors in gun violence
- Share resources to educate and assist churches in developing safety plans, including engagement with local law enforcement for consultation
- Develop a long-term plan to build a sustainable infrastructure to position the Diocese for ongoing calls to action, programs, education and advocacy
Then they got to work.
DEVELOPING SAFETY PLANS
Preparedness planning support has long been one of the resources offered by the Diocese of North Carolina. Redeveloped with a modular approach, the idea was to help congregations approach preparedness planning one step at a time. Not surprisingly, the main focus—and most requested area—often has been preparing for and responding to natural disasters, as it is not unusual for our geographical area to feel the effects of storms during the annual hurricane season.
Church safety was often discussed, but the need for the conversation really hit home in June following the shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. The task force recognized this, and only weeks later offered to church leaders a presentation with common sense areas to consider and steps to get started on improving security. The presentation was led by two task force members, both of whom are former law enforcement officers: The Rev. Sandy Key, rector of St. Stephen’s, Durham, who served as a police officer in Charleston, South Carolina, and Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, member of St. Ambrose, Raleigh, and former chief of the Raleigh Police Department. Along with suggestions for how to build safety-focused habits while maintaining an atmosphere of welcome, the presentation introduced the diocesan preparedness plan modules churches can use to start developing their plans. (Find them here.)
[Image: Bishops United Against Gun Violence marches on July 8 in response to an incident of gun violence near the convention center in Baltimore during the 80th General Convention. Photo by Randall Gornowich/The Episcopal Church]
PARTNERSHIPS AND ADVOCACY
The Diocese of North Carolina is not alone in wanting to contribute to the reduction and prevention of gun violence. Happily, several organizations with which the Diocese has long been in partnership are also dedicated to this important work, including Bishops United Against Gun Violence, the North Carolina Council of Churches and The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations.
With the task force came another guiding voice in the work of reducing gun violence. Co-chair Sara Smith works for North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, a statewide nonprofit that works to educate about factors related to gun violence and safety measures that work to reduce injuries. The organization also has a strong presence in advocacy, working to ensure the enforcement of existing gun laws and the development of more comprehensive measures.
It was with the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence that task force member the Rev. Justice Schunior, associate priest at St. Martin’s, Charlotte, recently met with staff members of Senator Thom Tillis’ office to discuss increased support for community violence intervention programs. Funding for such programs were part of a bipartisan bill passed at the federal level earlier this year, a bill for which both senators from North Carolina voted. The funding included in the bill was a good start, but a great deal more is needed. The hope of the conversation was to emphasize the importance and efficacy of these programs, especially those happening in North Carolina.
“Patterns of gun violence, especially in cities, follow a similar path to that of the spread of a disease,” explained Schunior. “Intervention programs work with leaders in communities to interrupt those patterns, but those leaders and facilitators need training and resources, and that takes money. Without it, you lose the leaders and the ground you’ve gained, and it takes a lot to get it back, because the work relies on a lot of trust and a lot of relationships. So continuity, both in funding and leadership, is crucial.”
Funding support on the state level is one of the pieces of legislation in the NC General Assembly the task force and its partners are watching closely. For those interested in lending their voice to the issue, the task force assisted in the development of best practices resources for contacting government representatives. (Find them here.)
The task force is looking within the Diocese for support as well, with the introduction of a resolution at the 207th Annual Convention. Resolution 207.7: On the Reduction of Gun Violence called for action on every diocesan level, including Convention commitment to ongoing advocacy efforts on the federal and state level; the urging of congregations to engage in the work of gun violence reduction through inclusion of the topic in church programs and prayer, the banning of weapons on church property and involvement in community violence intervention programs; and the encouraging of every individual to commit to becoming educated on the subject of gun violence, sharing only accurate information related to the topic, and participating in and advocating for gun safety best practices. A substitute version of the resolution with only minor clarifications was passed.
RESOURCES TO GET STARTED
Aside from the pain it causes, gun violence is not a simple issue. There are many factors that contribute to it and just as many challenges in finding a solution to reduce it. For those wishing to add to the efforts to reduce and prevent gun violence, it can quickly become overwhelming, making it difficult to know where to start.
To help with that, the task force recently launched a webpage on the diocesan website to help all those interested build a picture of the many facets of gun violence. It includes educational resources, ways to get started, advocacy opportunities, reliable data sources, partnership organizations, toolkits and liturgical resources. The offering is only a start; additional resources will be added, as will stories of inspiration as the work happening within the Diocese of North Carolina takes hold. The page can be found at episdionc.org/gun-violence-prevention.
Only four months after the first meeting of the task force, a great deal has already happened in the areas of focus identified at that meeting. But the task force is only getting started, as its members begin the work of deepening the efforts already put in place and developing the long-term plan that invites us all to be a part of finding a solution.
Christine McTaggart is the communications director for the Diocese of North Carolina.
Meet the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force
- The Rev. Sonny Browne, co-chair (All Saints’, Roanoke Rapids)
- Sara Smith, co-chair (Holy Family, Chapel Hill)
- Cassandra Deck-Brown (St. Ambrose, Raleigh)
- David Jacobs (St. Peter’s, Charlotte)
- The Rev. Sandy Key (St. Stephen’s, Durham)
- The Rev. Elaine McCoy (St. Philip’s, Durham)
- The Rev. Justice Schunior (St. Martin’s, Charlotte)
- The Rev. Sallie Simpson (Saint Augustine’s University)
- Berkeley Sumner (Youth Representative)
Find the Ministry for You
Gun violence reduction and prevention is the latest, but certainly not the only, area of ministry in which the Diocese of North Carolina is involved. To explore the ministry that may call to you, we encourage you to explore the options under “Ministries” found at the top of the diocesan homepage.
The 204th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina created a Bishop’s Committee on Affordable Housing. The Committee recently produced a curriculum and a guidebook to showcase successful housing programs in the Diocese and to suggest ways for all to get involved.
The Bishop’s Committee on Prison Ministry was created in 2010. Its continuing focus is to raise awareness of the need to bring Christ’s light into North Carolina jails and prisons.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple / Gun Violence Prevention / Diocesan Gun Policy