LENOX -- In a bid to foster community discussion, the spiritual leaders of the town's four major Christian congregations will deliver sermons at their services this Sunday addressing gun violence.
After coming up with the idea last June, Pastor Janet Deranian of the United Methodist Church began meeting with the other three leaders of the Lenox Clergy Association in August to plan the coordinated approach. They include the Rev. Natalie Shiras of the Church on the Hill, the Rev. Michael Tuck of Trinity Episcopal Church and the Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church.
"It says something to our congregations that on the same day, the clergy in one town are choosing to preach on the same topic because it's that important to all of us," said Deranian.
"Particularly after the tragedy at Newtown, all the clergy in Lenox felt really inspired to talk to all of our folks about the question of gun violence in our society," Tuck said, referring to the Connecticut school shooting last December that killed 26 people , including 20 first-graders.
In the tragedy's aftermath, Tuck led a "listening forum" on gun violence at Trinity last March.
"When we began to put our toe in the water, we knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenging conversation," he said. "We were all surprised at how challenging it was, to put it mildly."
That led to further discussions among the clergy about the role of the churches on the issue, he explained. The outcome was a desire to create nonpartisan dialogue for people with diverse opinions "in a structured way to hear voices they might not otherwise hear," Tuck explained.
The four clergy leaders decided to devote their individual sermons to the issue on World Communion Day, the first Sunday in October on the ecumenical calendar.
"You need to gather people together so they can talk, and lament," said Deranian, acknowledging the challenge of finding solutions. "We're just saying to our congregations that we can't ignore this and whatever happens, we need to face this as a group."
Following United Methodist's second service, Deranian will lead a discussion group on gun violence from noon to 1 p.m.
According to Tuck, among Trinity Church leaders "there was a really strong reticence to tackling this issue publicly" out of concern that specific policy positions would be advocated. "There was a worry that it would be divisive and would not help build up the community," he noted.
Deranian and Tuck said they decided to pursue the "preaching day" because discussion of gun violence had largely faded, even after the recent mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that claimed 12 lives on Sept. 16.
"While we as clergy don't assume to have the answers," Deranian said, "we know that sometimes it's our call to keep an issue up front and center."
After further discussions with their Clergy Association colleagues, the idea of a common sermon day surfaced.
"It's going to require all of our congregations, denominations and all different parts of society to face up to the issue of gun violence," she asserted. "This issue is not going away, these incidents are becoming more prevalent, more frequent and are appearing in places where you wouldn't expect them."
"We're almost becoming too used to the school shootings," Deranian added, but the Navy Yard massacre in a supposedly secure government facility "crossed boundaries off the map."
Despite the notion that gun violence is "completely intractable and a problem we cannot change," Tuck asserted that "the church has been involved in changing the world before, and for us it always starts with prayer."
On Sunday morning, prayers will be offered not only for the victims of shootings but also for gun manufacturers and owners as well as others involved in the problem.
"From there, we'll find the path that we're called to move forward," he said.
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