By Jessica Brodie
Nearly six weeks after a lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at an Orlando nightclub, South Carolina United Methodists are still standing in solidarity with the victims and survivors.
In the wee hours of Sunday, June 12, a well-armed 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, stormed Pulse, a popular gay nightclub holding a “Latin flavor” event. The horrors ended after an hours-long standoff with police, ending when police barreled into the building and killed the shooter. Among the dead were lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual men and women.
It was the deadliest shooting in United States history.
South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston issued an immediate response to the Orlando tragedy.
“As a people of faith committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence and hatred, we offer our condolences for the lives lost and destroyed by this terrible act of violence in Orlando, Florida,” Holston said. “Acts of hatred in any form are contrary to the will of Jesus Christ for this world. May we commit to the hard work of peacemaking and continue to pray for those impacted by this terrible act of violence.”
Florida Area Bishop Kenneth Carter Jr. urged churches to share the message of God’s unconditional love, noting that as Florida United Methodists were about to gather in Orlando for their annual conference event, perhaps it could be an opportunity to live out that love to others in creative, pastoral and grace-filled ways.
“May you announce God’s unconditional love for all people and God’s desire for nonviolence through Jesus Christ, who is our peace,” Carter said.
President Obama called for flags to be lowered to half-staff because of the shooting. Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for a moment of silence across the nation at 6 p.m. June 12.
Across South Carolina, many UMCs held prayer vigils and other special prayer moments that day and throughout the week. Virginia Wingard UMC, Columbia, is one of those churches, holding a service June 15 that featured Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Jamieson, Virginia Wingard pastor the Rev. Scott W. Smoak and Jim Lane, the chair of Reconciling Ministries of South Carolina, a group that mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities in South Carolina to transform the UMC and world into what they call “the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.”
“The prayer vigil was a sign of hope and healing in the face of evil, suffering and hate,” Jamieson said. “It was especially profound to see pastors and lay people come together across their differences on the issue of homosexuality. In times of tragedy, we realize we are all a part of God’s human family.”
During her June 15 message, Jamieson called for prayer that must turn to action.
“We cannot merely pray for an end to hate, an end to prejudice, an end to violence,” Jamieson said. “We must do something to promote respect and love across differences—racial, political, social, religious, gender, sexuality, economic, theological. We are all called to love our neighbor.”
Smoak, lifting up the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (“Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”), said those who attended the vigil gathered because they felt compelled to be available for those who mourn.
“By holding this prayer vigil we give voice to our love of God, love of the good land God has given us, the freedoms we enjoy, and we lament our innocence lost,” Smoak said.