What can churches do to prevent gun violence?
BBQ shooting raises questions about role of churches
By Mags Storey | Friday, July 27, 2012
Pastor Lovelace St. John comments on what can be done by churches to prevent future gun-related violence.
TORONTO, ONJohn McKay, MP for Scarborough-Guildwood, says a lot of hard questions are being asked in his riding after a purported community barbecue turned into the worst incident of gun violence in Toronto's history.
On July 16, an outbreak of gunfire at a community housing complex on Danzig Street left two people dead and 23 wounded.
The following weekend, McKay held a special community meeting for residents from the Morningside Coronation complex and the broader area, as well as social service agencies, community leaders and politicians.
McKayhimself the past moderator of a Baptist churchalso made a specific effort to include local faith leaders.
"The first thing we heard [from residents] was that they liked their community," he said. "They think highly of it … and are bitterly resentful of media stigmatization."
Residents were also concerned about the lack of security provided by Toronto Community Housing, and stressed that "even more than a police presence, what they were looking for a police relationship."
But the meeting also raised questions about how much local churches were involved in the community.
"What was obvious to me," he says, "was that most of the pastors there had no idea about all the community programs which were available. Equally, the community representatives had no idea what the pastors were doing.
"Actually, a lot of these pastors didn't even know each other … The faith communities need to get their act together."
He doesn't know if the presence of the local church leaders would have made any impact on the drinking, drug-use and gang presence at the Danzig Street barbecue. But still, one thing is clear, for churches to impact their wider communities they can't just stay in "holy huddles."
"They talked about 'silos of silence.' And that's something we could move ontrying to break down those silos."
Lovelace St. John, pastor of Progress Church, agrees. When ChristianWeek reached him for comment, he was outside at a free mid-week, community barbecue the church was holding in partnership with community group, the Boys and Girls Club. Progress Church has also been holding free Sunday community barbecues all summer long, along with an outdoor church serviceand invited all those at the post-shooting community meeting to attend one the following day.
"We as a church need to be proactive instead of reactive," St. John says. "We need to get out into the community and engage people where they live, and talk to them about their real life issues."
A few years ago St. John took the unprecedented step of calling social service agencies together for a joint-meeting with the church.
"I said, 'Tell us what you're doing. Because we want to be able to refer people to you. We want to be able to connect with you. We want to be able to do our part.' They said no church had ever done that before."
For this congregation, the question now, he says, is how to expand even farther. The church holds regular prayer walks in the community, but their circuit of the immediate surrounding area had stopped a few streets short of Danzig. Now, they are looking at walking farther. They also hold several community programs during the week, including a youth program and community drop in. In the coming weeks they are also looking at potentially holding a community youth symposium.
"The question ishow do we now get even more people plugged in?" he says.
He stressed that healthy communities need involvement on all levels of societyincluding law-enforcement, employment, education, strong marriages and solid parenting.
"And the church has to do its part in that," he adds. St. John is himself the father of three young adults. One of the church's priorities is ensuring that every young person in the congregation gets a post-secondary education.
"And we've had 100% success."
What is needed now, he adds, are tangible solutions.
"As pastors, how do we work together? Not having big, joint church servicesthat's not the answerbut how do we get out in the community together? How do we engage people personally, one on one? How do we see real transformation in their lives, by the power of the God who is able to save [us] spirit, soul and body?"