In Lenox, a monthly Requiem for victims of gun violence in US

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LENOX — For the Rev. Michael Tuck, rector of the Episcopal Churches of Lenox, the gun violence epidemic sweeping the nation is sorely testing his faith in humanity, though not his faith in God.

"It's been hard — very, very hard," he said this week.

Last winter, after he learned that a relative of a parishioner at Trinity Church had died during a home invasion north of State College, Pa., the violence hit especially close to home for him, serving as an epiphany, a sudden and striking revelation, Tuck told The Eagle during a conversation at a local cafe.

"What really struck me was that for every individual who dies by a firearm, there's the potential for life-shattering involving all the people around them," said Tuck. "In the church, we pray for people by name."

But he soon found that there was no national list identifying individual victims. So, he decided to start one.

For the past few months, Tuck has quietly led a Requiem service at Trinity on the first Saturday of each month centered on a reading, usually requiring 40 minutes, of all victims of gun violence during the previous month, typically at least 1,000 names.

This Saturday's 8 a.m. service will be led by the Right Rev. Douglas Fisher, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, a founding member of the church group, Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

Tuck spends an hour or two per week compiling publicly disclosed names by examining a list of incidents compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit online site seeking to document all outbreaks of gun violence around the country.

His mission has had "a profoundly unsettling effect," said Tuck. "It has really made the weight of this much more clear to me, and it's opened up a window into some of the darkest corners of humanity. The big, dramatic mass shootings are the tip of the iceberg; it's the part we see that breaks through the noise and hits the newspapers."

He cited the discovery on the list he compiled last month that "one of the names that popped up was another Michael Tuck. I still don't have any idea of what to do with that."

The list is a severe undercount, since some jurisdictions such as Philadelphia and Houston do not regularly disclose names, he said. Others, including Lenox, do not identify juveniles under 18 nor victims of domestic violence and suicide.

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Members of the Trinity congregation take turns reading the names. Ruth Arisman, one of the regular participants, said that "every month, I just worry that I will see a name I recognize."

Tuck has discovered that even people who might oppose more gun restrictions find "that this service is important. If there's a purpose to what I'm trying to do, it's to make us collectively to own the weight of these decisions we make, that we as a society are OK with the way gun ownership works. There's something sick about the way we've put together our society."

"I was not at all concerned about moral status or circumstances," he added. "The only kind of criteria for making the list was someone who was killed by a firearm."

The service is not directed only at victims of mass shootings, loosely defined as multiple casualties of firearms violence.

"The list we pray through during this service includes people who died during the commission of a crime, people who killed others during a home invasion, and people who were killed by a person defending their home," Tuck said.

He noted that the list includes infants and children who were killed accidentally — "innocents sacrificed on the altar of violence" — and police officers who were themselves killed on duty or who commit suicide.

"This whole exercise has made me much more sympathetic to law enforcement's position of being nervous about going into any encounter," Tuck said.

His reading of names includes people who took another life in anger, and it includes people who took their own lives.

"This started as a personal act of prayer and devotion," Tuck said. "It has changed me, and it has changed people who come to the service. I would really like to see if other churches around the country could pick this up. People are going to have to want it. But other clergy critters could do what I did, and say, `We're doing this.'"

As for his own reckoning with gun violence, Tuck suggested that "my faith asks me to reflect on what does redemption look like for each one of those people, how does each of these tragic moments become opportunities for growth and new life, and how can you hold on to that and hold on to the pain and loss of the individuals who died.

"I'm digging deep, and I'm being challenged to grow, to imagine that God is even bigger than I thought. And that's never easy."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto, or at 413-637-2551.


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