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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Dear Members and Friends of Pittsburgh Presbytery,

This past weekend, our beloved Pittsburgh community was shattered by a hatred-fueled mass shooting of worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue. Four of the responding law enforcement officers were also shot by the assailant before he was captured.

Within three hours of the shootings, Riverview Presbyterian Church hosted a prayer vigil for the grieving community, and a few hours later another vigil was hosted by Sixth Presbyterian Church. Many other of our congregations have scheduled special prayer services in the wake of this dreadful massacre. Thousands gathered at Soldiers and Sailors in Oakland yesterday to grieve, led by representatives from all levels of government and local faith communities. This coming Friday, Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church plans a candlelight vigil at the entrance of a nearby synagogue to express its solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers, and invites other congregations to do something similar in their neighborhoods.

On Saturday I posted a message on our Pittsburgh Presbytery Facebook page, a slightly modified version of which is being endorsed publicly by the group of denominational leaders with whom I regularly share breakfast (Rev. David Ackerman, United Church of Christ; Bishop Jim Hobby, Anglican Church in North America; Majors Raphael and Sandra Jackson, Salvation Army; Bishop Kurt Kusserow, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Bishop Dorsey McConnell, Episcopal Church; Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, United Methodist Church; Bishop William Skurla, Byzantine Catholic Church; Rev. Dr. Sheldon Sorge, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Metropolitan Savas Zembillas, Greek Orthodox Church; Bishop David Zubik, Roman Catholic Church):

We weep with our Jewish siblings in faith whose lives, families, and community have been shredded by a fusillade of bullets emanating from venomous bigotry. To the congregations of the Tree of Life synagogue, and all our beloved friends in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, we extend our deepest love and solidarity, with prayers for comfort and justice. We honor brave law enforcement officers and first responders who stepped into harm’s way to save others. We reject and denounce as evil every word and action that vilifies any faith or ethnic community, for any reason. We call upon all members of our congregations, together with all others of good will, to repair the breach that sunders our community. Confessing together that the Lord is One, we commit ourselves to love the Lord with all our heart and strength by loving our neighbors, without exception.

The outpouring of sorrow in our community has been abundant, nurturing a surging resolve to do all in our power to rid our country of the ongoing scourge of hate-filled mass shootings of innocents, especially in houses of worship. This shooting, along with most mass shootings, was enabled by the use of a rapidly repeating assault rifle, which our presbytery has publicly called for legislators to ban.

At a time of such devastating trauma in our neighborhood, how we speak of this with our children is critically important. Dr. Sharon Carver, a professor of child development at Carnegie Mellon University and a deacon at the First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, has prepared a wonderful resource to guide parents and church leaders as they speak with children about this dreadful event. Other resources for speaking with children about this tragedy are available from UPMC and NEXT Pittsburgh.

As Christians, we are called to respond to hatred with love. “Love your enemies!” Jesus unambiguously commands us. (Matthew 5:43-48) Where darkness and hatred rush in like a flood, we are called to fight back with the far more powerful forces of light and peace from our Lord.

The peace of our Lord be with you all.

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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