Dear Members and Friends of the Presbytery,

We are brokenhearted and deeply grieved as a Presbytery to see that 14 children and one teacher have lost their lives in Uvalde, Texas - a school shooting and massacre that brings up for us the special pain our community suffered in 2012 in Newtown, CT with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. 

Just a week ago the leadership of the Presbytery reached out to our siblings in the Presbytery of Western New York after the hate crime perputrated against the African American community in Buffalo, NY. We wrote these words to them:

We lament and grieve that the “three evils of society” that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described in 1967, the “giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism,” continue to plague and harm our society, twisting and perverting us in ways that represent a full departure from the Way of Jesus that we are to be formed in as his disciples, individually and corporately. Addiction to the sins of violence and racism haunt every part of our society, and the church must regain its clarity of voice for our time. We know that like us, your Presbytery is working hard to address your own issues around the sin of systemic racism - this is generational work. We know that your Presbytery, like ours, has been long concerned with issues of peacemaking, community care, and gun violence. And yet, the indescribable pain of this weekend is before us, and we deeply grieve the hurt, trauma, and senseless loss of life and safety felt in your community.

We all thought in 2012, even if we were not here in this region, that that awful day in Newtown, CT would be enough - the massacre of elementary school children - for our country to have reformation around the addiction to violence and guns. Instead, the sin-sick addiction has only intensified. There have been 16 mass-shooting events just in the last ten days in this country. This sinfulness, this addiction to gun violence claims too many lives from suicides to domestic violence to accidents to the mass-shooting events that make the news. 

We are people who follow Jesus. 

Jesus is peace. 

Jesus is nonviolence. 

Jesus is life and Resurrection.

As a Church, as people who follow Jesus, we must get very clear about who we are and let go of timidity for the sake of false unity. We must understand that the way of life that we have given our lives to is 100% in opposition to the addictions of violence and racism. We must have clarity that if we are serious about Jesus, then we are different from the sin-sick culture that we live in and we must then work tirelessly as an act of sacrificial love to change it. We are here for a reason, and that is to bring the love and salvation of Jesus to everyone. We must be honest that the real cultural gods that are worshipped are violence and racism, and we have played along with this, even in quiet ways, for far too long. We must repent of any collusion we have had with this.

Tomorrow we will gather as a Presbytery both in-person and online. Our meeting will be opened by Moderator Cadwallader with a time to locate ourselves in prayer and connection. We must fortify ourselves for the time we are in and redouble all of our efforts to be the light and love of Jesus, his re-presentation in this world. We must be as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us - non-conformists. 

There is no other way. 

We pray for God’s peace and love that passes all of our human understanding to surround the grieving and bereft community in Uvalde, Texas on this night. We pray for our own community of Newtown, Connecticut which is retraumatized on this night. We pray for this country to come to its senses and out of the fog of lies to the addictions to violence and racism. 

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed….Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Instead, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 2 

Peace, Peace, even when there is no Peace, 

Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo, General Presbyter 

Submitted by Bipen Rai, Tech & Communications Committee
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