On Thursday, December 13, Washington National Cathedral joined with the Newtown Foundation to offer a National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence to mark the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The vigil began with calls to prayer offered by Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Dr. Rajwant Singh, founder and chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education; and the Rev. Mel Kawakami, senior minister at Newtown United Methodist Church.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, who welcomed the more than 800 attendees, has been a vocal proponent of common-sense actions and “reasonable measures” to curb the epidemic of gun violence in America’s communities since the Sandy Hook shooting. He has also been selected to serve as the new chairperson of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a diverse national coalition of denominations and faith-based organizations working to end gun violence. Observing that more than 30,000 individuals had lost their lives to gun violence since the shooting at Sandy Hook, Dean Hall noted that more action would be needed and pledged the Cathedral’s continued support for leaders courageous enough to stand against the “gun lobby”—and with victims.
The first major portion of the evening’s vigil, “Voices of Remembrance,” featured first-hand reflection and testimony from immediate family members of loved ones who have been lost to an act of gun violence. This section was concluded with a “prayer of remembrance” offered by the Rev. Sam Saylor of Blackwell Memorial AME Zion Church in Hartford, Conn. “Voices for Hope,” a panel with young people affected by gun violence (moderated by the Rev. Kathleen Adams-Shepherd of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Conn.), offered a new perspective and was followed a “prayer for the future” by the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Samuel, senior minister of Victory for the World Church UCC in Stone Mountain, Ga. Warren Hardy, Jr., of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence in Hartford then joined the Rev. Matthew Crebbin (senior minister of Newtown Congregational Church UCC) for “words of gratitude and grace.”
The keynote speech for the evening was provided by the Hon. Eleanor Holmes Norton, United States Congressional delegate for the District of Columbia, who took as her guiding theme the human quality of persistence. “They [the victims of Sandy Hook] cannot: we have been anointed to persist. It is our mission in their name to keep it up,” she said. Norton was introduced by Nardyne Jeffries, who lost her own daughter to gun violence.
Musical offerings for the evening spanned genres, ranging from a meditation on gun violence–victim John Lennon’s “Imagine” for violin and piano (performed by violinist Sonya Hayes accompanied by Cathedral Assistant Organist Benjamin Straley) to an impassioned performance by acclaimed musician Carole King of the song “In the Name of Love”. The closing anthem, Jim Allyn’s “My Beautiful Town,” was introduced by remarks from Muadh Bhavnagarwala of Al Hedaya Islamic Center in Newtown and performed by the World Children’s Choir with a violin solo by Melody Flores.
Following closing benedictions from Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America’s office of interfaith and community alliances; the Rev. Anthony Motley of Redemption Ministries and Inner Thoughts, Inc.; and the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, lights in the nave were dimmed and more than 800 candles illuminated the vast interior space. As all present took up the closing hymn “This Little Light of Mine”, participants processed out—lightening the solemn darkness of the cold December evening.