Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

Last fall, Grace joined the leadership team of our Merge youth group, and was asked to serve as its Communications Connector. It meant that she became responsible for writing a brief, weekly column in the youth e-news.

She calls it her “Mini Midweek Message.”

 

She’s always been a good writer, so much better than I was at her age. But the one she wrote this week, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, moved me to tears:

 

Normally when I write these weekly messages, I have no specific audience in mind; I try to write in a way that speaks to everyone in some capacity. 

            But this week, I cannot do that. I write this message for a specific audience: the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting and the students who knew them. I write to Martin Anguiano, to Nicholas Dworet, to Jamie Gutenberg, and to Peter Wang. I write to Aaron Feis, to Scott Beigel, to Christopher Hixon, to Alexander Schachter, to Carmen Schentrup, and to Luke Hoyer.  I write to Alyssa Alhadeff, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack and Helena Ramsay.

            To these people, I write on behalf of virtually everyone in America when I say that you will never be forgotten. 

            You are the martyrs that have ignited a flame where we say “enough is enough!” and the calls to end gun violence have begun to ring louder than ever. And to those who knew them, those who have taken this horrendous tragedy and turned it into a call to action, I applaud you.

            We are the future of this nation, and we must stand together to ensure that everyone in our generation has the opportunity to reach the greatness they deserve.

 

LIGHT AND HOPE

 

And so, last Monday night in Curtis Hixon Park, at a candlelight vigil organized by the county Parent Teacher Association, she and her fellow Plant High School classmates joined hundreds of youth and families from the area to bear witness to the light that will not be dimmed by the darkness of despair. She and sixteen others each read a name of a victim, as we gathered to mourn, honor, and find strength in each other.

 

At the start of the vigil, here is what I offered as the invocation:

 

O God of Light and Hope,

            Tonight, we gather.

            We gather in grief, to lament the loss of seventeen innocent lives, cut far short of their potential, to mourn the brokenness of the man who struck them down, and to acknowledge the dysfunction of a culture that allows such evil to occur.

            Tonight, we join you in declaring that enough is enough. For even as we come to name the darkness, in solidarity, we claim the light. For you call us to choose fortitude over fear, action over apathy, and the light of defiance over the darkness of despair.

            Prompt us. Empower us. Unite us, both in reverence and resistance, that even as you bring calm to the chaos within us, you would stir up a mighty force of change among us.

            So that our schools will be safe, our families without fear, and our communities free of concern.

            So that the victims of Parkland and the Pulse, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino, Mother Emmanuel and Las Vegas, and countless other victims, will not have died in vain.

            O God of light, we claim your light, that we might be the light, so that even the darkness cannot overcome it.

            In your name, we pray. And let all who agree, say Amen.

 

5000 LETTERS

 

In the wake of the shooting, our Bishop Ken Carter issued a challenge to United Methodists across the state and beyond:

 

“I call upon the followers of Jesus to speak for those whose voices are silenced, and to speak for our children and grandchildren. What if, across Florida and even our connection, we were able to collect and send 5000 letters?”

 

We join with congregations across the state in writing letters to our state and federal representatives, imploring them to support legislation that will stem the tide of gun violence. Last Sunday, many of you picked up sample letters and copies of our General Conference’s most recent resolution titled “A Call to End Gun Violence.”

 

You can find out more about this Conference effort, as well as links to Bishop Carter’s full statements, on the new website 5000Letters.com. As the website says, this is not meant to be a partisan effort. “We are called as a church to be engaged in political issues, just as Jesus was unafraid to speak out on matters of injustice, and the prophets boldly confronted the social ills of their time. We can do so without being partisan, so 5000 Letters is not about targeting, advancing or endorsing any particular political party. In other words, while we encourage these letters to have political messaging, they should not be partisan in nature.”

 

So, if you feel led, we encourage you to write letters yourselves. You can drop off your letter at the church for us to pray over and mail, or you can mail it yourself. To let us know that you submitted a letter, use this LINK. Or, you can report it directly through the Conference’s site 5000Letters.com. To avoid double-counting, you don’t need to report it through both sites.

 

Together, let us be the light of Christ, amid the darkness, such that the darkness cannot overcome it.

 

Blessed Lent to you and yours,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor

 

 

VISIONING CHATS

Part of the way we live into the light amid the darkness is to clarify the future God has for this church. The Vision Team is eager to start an exciting phase of its discernment of our long-term strategic plan. We invite you to participate in one of our “Visioning Chats,” taking place over the next several Sundays. Your feedback on important areas of our ministry and life together will factor heavily in how we listen for God’s future for this church. See the full listing of visioning chats that begin this Sunday and sign up here.

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