Tears, prayers and a show of unity in the face of heartbreaking sadness marked the Florida Conference’s prayer vigil for the victims of the June 12 massacre that killed 49 and injured 53 others at a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando.
The vigil, held late on June 16 outside an Orlando-area hotel convention center, was an outpouring of love for the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history and for the families and friends whose lives were forever changed.
In his remarks to the conference delegates, Florida Area Bishop Kenneth Carter Jr. reminded the assembly of the light that Christ brings into the world.
“Nothing justifies what happened, but we believe that Jesus brings light into the world and that light is for all people,” Carter said as conference members held up lighted glow-sticks.
“Take the light into your hands and believe that something can be born of this,” Carter said.
A choir of volunteers from churches conference-wide sang a cappella choruses of the anthem “Dona Nobis Pacem.”
Everyone sang “Jesus Remember Me” and later intoned that melody as the name of each of the 49 victims was read aloud.
The Rev. Steve Harper, former vice president of Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus, led prayers for the victims and their families.
Harper, who has spoken out for full LGBTQ inclusion in The United Methodist Church, invited attendees to link arms with those around them for a moment of silence and private prayer. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.
Harper later led a common prayer of lament for the souls of the departed, the gunman and “for our civic and religious leaders who must lead us through this crisis.”
Antony Larry, a member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, lost friends in the shooting. Larry was supported by fellow church members and others attending the vigil.
He read a poem entitled “Blessing in a Time of Violence” by Jan Richardson.
The service concluded with the singing of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
The Orlando shooting was referenced in worship and in business sessions at the conference throughout the day.
“What does it mean to be here this week?” Bishop Carter asked during his sermon at opening worship, noting that the conference was meeting in Orlando for the first time in recent memory.
He spoke to the reasons for adding the prayer vigil to the worship schedule.
“It is important that we stand in solidarity with those who suffer and especially in these days with the targeted LGBTQ community in Orlando. We believe God is calling us to bear witness in such a time as this,” Carter said.
District Superintendent Bob Bushong, whose area includes Orlando, noted that area churches like First Orlando, St. Luke’s and Peace United Methodist Church were “listening and responding to the needs of the community” by holding services, conducting blood drives and opening hearts and doors to those who are hurting.
Bushong, with fellow district superintendent June Edwards, presented a statement from the bishop and the cabinet publicly denouncing the gun violence and calling for churches to be a witness for good. Carter asked conference delegates to indicate if they would affirm the statement and they did. The statement is posted on the Florida Conference web site, www.flumc.org.
McGovern is a writer and consultant based in Casselberry, Florida.
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