Faith and politics mix for Episcopalians at march

Faith and politics mix for Episcopalians at march

More than 150 members of the Central New York Episcopal Church marched as a group at the Syracuse March for Our Lives protest against gun violence.
Published: March 24, 2018 | Updated: April 23rd, 2018 at 10:54 am
March for Our Lives Syracuse
Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, right, led attendees of her prayer service to the Everson Museum, where the Syracuse March for Our Lives began.

At a prayer service held an hour before the March for Our Lives in Syracuse, Erin Moore set down her things, including protest signs for her young children, toddler James and baby Miriem.

The signs read: “Protect kids not guns,” and “No guns in my school.”

Moore and her children attended the prayer service with her husband, the Rev. Steven Moore. It is part of their faith as Episcopalians to stand up against things that are unjust in society.

“We feel really strongly that our government has to do something about gun laws and about kids, who are getting shot in schools,” Erin Moore said. “With these little guys growing up, it’s kind of scary to live in this country right now.”

The prayer service was held at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a few blocks from the Everson Museum, where the march began at noon.

March for Our Lives Syracuse
A sign made by the Moore family. They attended the service and march with their two young children.

Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, said she views churches as a part of civic society, and she sees taking a stance as part of her role as a moral leader.

“I think with something that is as immoral as the gun violence impacting our nation, it is vital that the church take a primary and very forward role in speaking to the immorality of ignoring this issue,” she said in an interview before the march.

“Our purpose today is to stand behind the youth and with the youth,” Duncan-Probe announced at the service.

At the prayer service, the Very Rev. Jeanne M. Hansknecht, the priest serving as rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cazenovia, said that praying settles her soul – especially before an event such as this one.

“When the church makes a statement, we’re saying this is important,” Hansknecht said before the march. “We’re not going to let these kids be on their own.”

Hansknecht said she’s not usually comfortable engaging in politics.

“But there are some things that will always draw us out of our comfort zones,” she said.

March for Our Lives Syracuse
Will Schofield-Broadeent, left, is a student at Nottingham High School. He and the Rev. Canon John Crosswaite welcomed people into St. Paul’s Cathedral for the 11 a.m. prayer service.

Duncan-Probe is a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group of more than 70 bishops across the nation who believe in “a God of life in the face of death,” who will call the church to action, according to their website.

Rev. Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, the priest serving as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Manlius, is another member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence. In 2015, she marched against gun violence at the Episcopal Church general convention in Salt Lake City, which happens once every three years.

Their political activism, especially on this issue, isn’t new, Cleaver-Bartholomew said. Almost exactly five years ago in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Episcopal Church marched in Washington, D.C. Their event was called “Walk the Way of the Cross,” and was described in a PBS article as a time of prayer, pilgrimage and public witness to challenge the violence in our world.

“One of the ways I think that our presence can help impact the movement itself is to give it support, and to ground it in a faith perspective and a theological perspective,” Cleaver-Bartholomew said. “When a lot of people hear about things like gun control or ending gun violence they frame it from simply a political perspective, which is only one of the available ways to understand the march itself.”

The church pushes for sensible gun regulation, and is not radically anti-gun or gun owner, Duncan-Probe said. So gun owners have no need to be afraid, she said.

Duncan-Probe grew up around guns. She understands what being a responsible gun owner is, she said. Her stance in the movement is to push for better legislation when it comes to mental health, responsibility and gun ownership, she said.

“In the same way you wouldn’t allow a 10 year old to drive a car because they’re not ready, we need to make sure that people who own guns are ready for this responsibility,” she said. “This is a civic responsibility.”

March for Our Lives Syracuse
Church member Anne Acevedo held this sign while marching. Pictured on her left is Susanne Merchant, who said the march was amazing. She applauds the young people who organized it.

Members in the Episcopalian church, priests especially, are called to be living witnesses to their faith by actively engaging in the world and its concerns, Cleaver-Bartholomew said.

“Our faith is not something that is simply compartmentalized to be Sunday morning or a private or personal thing,” she said. “It’s a part of how we live our lives.”

During the march, Duncan-Probe held a banner with the name of her church.

“I feel even more emboldened,” she said. “Look at all the people here, the energy. This is where the heart of the people really is.”

 

March for Our Lives Syracuse
Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe offered words of encouragement, song and prayer at the service before the march.
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is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.