On Monday evening, April 28, 2014,dozens of United Methodists came together with residents of the 116th and Laflin community where Leonore Draper was shot and killed in front of her own home on April 26th. She was a member of St. Mark United Methodist Church and well known in her church and community. She had just returned from a fundraiser for non-violence in our streets, led by her long-time friend and college roommate.
We gathered in a misty rain. We walked up and down the street, invited the community to come join us for a prayer vigil, and called for, prayed for, and committed ourselves to stopping the violence that has gripped our city’s streets.
While we were gathered, another series of shootings occurred, killing a teenager on the west side. The violence just doesn’t seem to stop and we are outraged and despairing at its senseless, debilitating presence on our streets and in our city.
As Christians we are in the life saving business and we need to help save our children, youth and citizens from this senseless and random killing. While one death is too many, what gives me hope is that I am also aware that our churches are in the business of saving lives through their various outreaches into their communities.
On the Saturday after Ms. Draper was killed, I was on a mission trip with youth from our annual conference. We went to four churches in Chicago; all of them are in the saving lives business. Several of them have an outreach to those in the community who are juvenile offenders or who are the ones threatening violence in their neighborhoods. Through the churches’ outreach they are helping these young people turn their lives around, trust that there is a future of hope for them, and providing skills that they can use in a non-violent lifestyle.
What also gives me hope in the life saving business is what I saw on Maundy Thursday. I spent the day visiting eight of the Safe Havens that our United Methodist churches provided during Chicago Public Schools’ spring break. The weather was chilly and we all tend to believe that weather impacts the level of violence on the streets so there weren’t as many shootings that week/weekend but if nothing else, these churches grew in their capacity to provide community safety for the children in their neighborhoods. How many lives can we save? We will never know because it’s not something we can count but I believe that when we as the church are engaged in our communities, we are in the business of saving lives…the lives of children, youth and citizens.
Not only in Chicago, but throughout our entire annual conference (and beyond), I trust that we as the church will be in the business of saving lives…