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  • Rev. Barbara Ballenger

This is the Fast I Want: Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living -3.9.23

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

As part of her Lenten observance this season, Rev. Barb has set aside Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. to fast for an end to gun violence, pray for those who have died or been injured in our community, and write a brief reflection on the issue. You are invited to join your prayer to hers each Thursday at noon by lifting your own prayer for an end to gun violence in our community and nation. An updated list of all those who have died or been injured by gun violence in Philadelphia can be found here.

In the week since my previous hour of prayer and fasting in the face of gun violence, nine more people have been killed by gunfire and 16 people have survived in Philadelphia, according to the website Mapping Philadelphia’s Gun Violence. Those who died were all men, all Black. The youngest was 14 and the oldest was 43.

Those who survived included four women, the rest men. They were mainly Black; a few were Hispanic or White. The youngest survivor was 18, the oldest was 71.

I looked for a prayer in my Episcopal resources for those who have died by violent means. The closest I came was a prayer for those who have survived abuse and violence. So I adapted it for my prayer time. Eight of these victims did not survive, and I lift up their violent deaths to Jesus, who holds them as one who himself endured a violent death, and whose resurrected body holds all the scars of his injury.

Let us pray:

Holy One, you do not distance yourself from the pain of your people, but In Jesus bear that pain with us. You know in your body the violence of death at the hand of another. You bless all who have survived their injuries at others’ hands and continue to suffer. Hallow our flesh and all creation; with your cleansing love bring healing and strength to all who mourn the dead and all who have survived their injuries. By your justice lift them up, that in the body you have given them, they may rejoice. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. (Adapted from Ministry with the Sick, Church Publishing, 2005.)

Last Monday a delegation from the bishops of Pennsylvania brought their requests for policy change to our representatives in the State Capitol. The Rev. Canon Toneh Smyth represented the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Canon Smyth was accompanied by Kyle Evans, chaplain of Episcopal Community Services and House Rev. Perry Warren, who is also a parishioner in our diocese.

"It was important to show the copious number of counties clergy represent and that we were paying attention," Canon Smyth said.

This is what the bishops are calling for:

  • One Handgun A Month: The one handgun a month restriction would dramatically increase the challenge of straw purchasing and illegal handgun trafficking for gun traffickers, which significantly reduces the flow of illegal handguns into streets and neighborhoods, thereby saving lives from gun murder, a proven strategy that has been successfully implemented in other states.

  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO): Judicial orders for the temporary removal of fire-arms from persons deemed dangerous to themselves and/or others. Family members, neighbors, friends, and police may seek these orders from a judge.

  • Prohibition on sales/possession of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines: Certain military style semi-automatic firearms are designed and manufactured to enable very powerful and rapid firing and to hold magazines of thirty or more bullets. Mass gun murders are usually committed with these assault weapons, which are too dangerous for civil society.

  • Prohibition on sales/possession of ghost guns: Parts of guns and kits of parts are available for purchase in Pennsylvania, enabling the assembly of guns that have no identifying markings or information. These ghost guns are exceedingly difficult to trace, thereby making the solving of gun crimes extremely difficult for law enforcement.

As we pray for the dead let us fight like hell for the living, as Mary Harris Jones (Mother Jones) once said. Mother Jones was no saint. She reported saying these words to miners whose union was meeting in a church. They should be doing more than praying, she admonished them.

As people of faith, we can do both. We can also pray for the living, and fight like hell for justice for the dead.

I also find myself praying for patience and endurance because these non-violent battles intended to disarm the violent and all who profit from arming them seem unending. So I also prayed this prayer today:

O Lord, we are at the limits of our power to help. For what we have left undone forgive us. For what you have helped us to do, we thank you. For what must be done by others, lend your strength. Now shelter us in your peace which passes our understanding.

To this I would add, don’t make us so sheltered and so peaceful that we forget the loss of those who grieve their beloveds who have died from gun violence, and the ongoing pain of those who live with their injuries.


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