By Pastor Janelle Hooper
Perhaps you attended a local vigil for those killed in Orlando like our bishop. Perhaps you said an extra prayer with your kids at dinner or before bed, telling them in the most appropriate way you know how about those 49 tragic deaths. As Interim Houston Lutheran Campus Pastor, I helped to lead a vigil at the chapel on the University of Houston.
Out of around thirty affiliated campus ministers, six of us showed up: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Baptist. We said a few ecumenical prayers. We read the names of those who had passed. We lit candles. We even rang a singing bowl and heard beautiful wordless hymns on the organ. I was moved by the crowd of over two hundred, who patiently waited in line to use magic markers to write their prayers on the butcher paper. This paper usually leans against a corner in my office all rolled up and nondescript. But with the rainbow of marker colors covering every inch of the paper, the prayer wall took on a life of its own.
A fellow campus pastor and two recent Muslim graduates, who came back to this community for the vigil, respectfully walked the prayer wall to the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion. About sixty people stuck around for two hours to talk about how we felt about the Orlando shooting. To be honest, this is where the sermon took place, not at the short vigil where we couldn’t get too particular about God.
Many of us learned in seminary that a “good sermon” has both judgment and Good News. The judgment in this sermon and around the room included folks who grieved the innocent, the wounded, the families, and the loss of a safe sanctuary for a gay community. The judgment included the media’s tendency to shine the light on anti-Muslim rhetoric and take the heat off of those who would intentionally target the LGBTQIA community. The judgment included hosting a vigil that was Christian in nature when so many LGBTQIA folk had been tried, judged, and condemned in churches and didn’t find it an appropriate place to gather to honor life. The judgment included the lack of gun laws making it easy for the shooter to get such weapons.
And as our hearts broke in lament, there were also amazing words of good news. There were several voices committed to speaking to their politicians about stricter gun laws. There were voices that said they would continue to brave each day being gay and being out, convicted to still authentically be themselves. There were students and staff who condemned the anti-Muslim comments and culture sweeping our country and our presidential race. And there were a handful of people in that circle who said they were grateful for the vigil held in a Christian sanctuary invoking Jesus’ love and welcome of all people. Most of those voices said they had been estranged from their own Christian worshiping communities. But these same voices were grateful that they were welcome here. They appreciated the ministers’ intentional acts of leading the vigil, talking to them after the service, and sticking around to share in the challenging conversations.
Perhaps you too have had some tough conversations recently with family, friends, or colleagues that included similar judgments. If so, I hope you also experienced some good news where people who felt the church didn’t want to have anything to do with them, stood up and spoke up with welcoming arms, sharing Christ’s love. And if perhaps you experienced a sermon like that, then you know like I do, that the best sermons lead to action. So thank you for your commitment to supporting such vital campus ministry.