Sutherland Springs, One Week Later // Moving Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

 

Last Sunday, November 5th, was my 39th birthday. As I sat around a table with my family and a few friends, the news of the Sutherland Springs massacre started to come in on our phones. When we were cleaning up the plates of cake and ice cream I glanced at my phone. Tags on Social Media: “I think Traci Smith is nearby” and BREAKING NEWS texts from KSAT. It took no more than a quick scan to realize that this was wide ranging, devastating. Another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church. 

I sent a quick text to the Executive Presbyter saying “If pastoral care is needed in Sutherland Springs, I am willing.” I didn’t expect to hear back from her until the next day at the earliest, but she called 20 minutes later. She told me that a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance representative had told her about a vigil in LaVernia, TX, nearby and asked if I would go with her.

This morning in my sermon, I told the congregation about the fear I had as we drove there, with my 10 month old baby sitting next to me in the backseat. I worried we wouldn’t be safe. A church vigil should be safe, right? That’s exactly the point. A church should be safe.

I told the rest of that personal story from the pulpit this morning, including the question I was asked by the pastor there: “What kind of evil is this?”

Deliver us from evil.

We talked this morning about the evil of what happened this week and how we have a responsibility to do something about it. Thoughts and prayers are important, but they’re not enough.

I’m grateful to my fearless colleague Rev. Krin Van Tatenhove and the Mission Elders of my congregation, Patty and Robert, for designing four action stations:

First, a station where folks could write cards and expressions of sympathy to members of the church.

Second, a station where they pick up information on how to talk to children about a tragedy like this. I also included the same practices I recommended to folks wanting to help children after hurricane Harvey.

Third, a station that details the PC(USA) work to prevent gun violence and

Finally, a letter writing station. Our friends at Texas Impact helped us draft the following letter that parishioners could send to Speaker Joe Straus and Governor Abbott:

 

Dear Governor Abbott:

The recent tragic shooting at a place of worship in Sutherland Springs has once again highlighted policy issues related to the availability of firearms. Specifically, the interplay of Texas and Federal firearms laws, administrative procedures related to those laws, and the special circumstances of domestic violence and mental health woven into this tragedy mandate that Texas continue its ongoing efforts to improve public policy and reduce the chance of the next terrible event. None of these issues is new to the legislature. In fact, we have shown strong willingness to discuss these issues both individually and in relationship to one another. Specifically, we applaud the legislature’s commitment to mental health over the past several sessions. However, we are sadly reminded that there is much more work to do.

We request that you direct the appropriate committees in your houses to conduct a comprehensive review of policy issues potentially related to this tragedy, including:

  • The interplay of, and confusion between, various state and federal gun laws related to possession, transport, and licensure;
  • The communication between local, state, and federal authorities (including military authorities) of information pertinent to an application to obtain a firearm;
  • The communication of aggregated authority to sellers of firearms, and actions taken by sellers to deny a sale; and
  • Current laws related to disqualification for firearm purchase as a result of domestic violence and mental health records.

We believe that such an interdisciplinary review will be valuable to our communities, to Texans in general, and to policymakers as they grapple with the policy issues that such tragedies illuminate.

After the service, I was overwhelmed by the number of connections my San Antonio had to Sutherland Springs. I knew some of the stories, but not all of them. I walked away from service reminded again just how much this tragedy was  in our own back yard, but it’s always in somebody’s backyard…

 

Resources:

  1. The letter: please feel free to copy and paste the letter and send to your own representatives. We have no ownership over it and are deeply grateful to Texas Impact for their support.
  2. Resources for children. We provided THIS and THIS today.
  3. PCUSA Resources on Gun Violence
  4. Why Christians Must Support Gun Control