Pulse shootings response


Florida Conference responds to Pulse shootings

Following are pictures and brief articles on how Florida Conference churches have responded to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando June 12. For links to more articles, letters, press releases, videos and more, please see the June 22 issue of our e-Celebrate newsletter.


Miami Beach Community Church

Miami Beach Community Church
Top left, Eddie Diaz drawing the mural in remembrance of Orlando on the walls of Miami Beach Community Church on June 16. Top right, Rev. Harold "Hunter" Thompson, pastor, drawing the #G3FAITH mural for Give Your Guns to God. The church invited people to surrender their guns as a sign of peace during its Sunday service on June 19. At center, a wide shot of the church on the day of the service. The service about peace and the tribute to Orlando was remarkable, moving and filled with hope. In the midst of sorrow and grief, God is still speaking words of healing, hopefulness, compassion, acceptance and love. In a few days the chalk will fade from the historic sanctuary, but the congregation's LGBTQ witness of acceptance and love will not. At bottom left, on June 13, Rev. Candy Thomas brings words of hope and healing from Miami Beach Community Church to the citizens of Miami Beach in the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando. At bottom right, Rev. Daniel Morales, Rabbi Rachel Greengrass and Pastor Thompson before the Pridelines Interfaith Vigil the same day. Messages of hope, peace and strength were shared during the "We Stand With Orlando" event.


United Church of Christ of St. Augustine

UCC of St. Augustine
Members of the United Church of Christ of St. Augustine gathered on June 19 to lament the Pulse shootings a week earlier. At left, prayers for healing and peace were written on a prayer door. Top right, Sharing: Holly Near's We are a gentle, angry people, singing for our lives ... . Below that, friends and members brought candles to light in memory of those who lost their lives.


Good Samaritan Church, Pinellas Park

On the June 12, the congregation tolled our bell for peace, as we do on the second Sunday of every month. Because it is pride month, we were already tolling it for LGBT youth who take their own lives. Our guest preacher, Rev. Libby Shannon, the associate chaplain at Eckerd College, included the victims at Pulse in the tolling and wept at the communion table as everyone sang the Lord's prayer.

On June 19, guest preacher Rev. Noel Koestline offered a time of memorial and silence, reading out each of the names of deceased, lighting a memorial candle and offering special prayers.

All year long, we have also been helping to plan the Second Annual St. Pete Interfaith Pride Worship Service, which was started by some of our church members. When people arrive for the service on the evening of June 23, they will be greeted by luminaries outside for each victim. Imams of the Tampa Bay area will offer an act of remembrance. Rabbi Dr. Sara Fackelman, who began the first LGBT synagogue in Tampa and is a licensed gender therapist, will be present. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Unitarians and Christians of many traditions, as well as many civic leaders, will come together to celebrate our humanity. The mission statement of the Interfaith Pride Service is: "Celebrating our humanity, spirituality and diversity to move our community toward healing, justice and action."

— Rev. Jen Daysa, pastor


Community Church of Vero Beach

Interfaith service at Community Church of Vero Beach
Hundreds attend an interfaith service at Community Church of Vero Beach on June 15.


Almost 700 people attended an interfaith service held by Community Church of Vero Beach on June 15 in response to the Orlando shootings. Readings were shared by a Swami from the four Apanachades, the Hebrew Testament by a Jewish Cantor, the Koran by a Muslim teenager and the Christian scriptures by a member of the LGBTQ community. Homilies were given by a Rabbi and a local Muslim leader, while the Christian words were brought by Community Church Executive Minister Dr. Casey Baggott.

After the processional of the many faith leaders to the Hymn "God of Grace and God of Glory", the opening call were the words of Jeremiah, shared behind a giant bowl of water. While cupping his hands and continually releasing water into the bowl, Dr. Bob Baggott of Community Church proclaimed, "This is what the Lord says: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.' "

After words and readings from the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions, worshipers were ask to bring forward candles and small clear stones to represent tears, as a prayer for Orlando and the world. Rev. Joel Reif and Rev. Dave Johnson read parting words, embracing the oneness and togetherness of the people of God.

Reporter Larry Reisman, writing for the Press Journal wrote, "Wednesday night's interfaith service of remembrance and hope at the Community Church in Vero Beach was unlike anything I've ever seenr in my life."

Later that evening, a vigil was held at Riverside Park, and Community Church clergy asked to participate. At the vigil, Dr. Robert Baggott ask forgiveness from the LGBTQ community for the part the Christian Church has played in fostering intolerance towards the LGBTQ community. "We are from the same mud," he said. "We are all beloved children of God."

On Sunday morning, June 19, all candles left on the table were given to members of Community Church after the singing of "Let there be Peace on Earth". Members were ask to light the candle once a day for seven days and pray for the unknown person who brought the candle to the service. All 700 were gone as the service concluded.

Community Church's interfaith service was live streamed and can be seen at www.ccovb.org. It was also covered by tcpalm.org. Our UCC clergy response, carried by National Public Radio (NPR), can be heard at WQRS.com, NPR for the Treasure Coast.


United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale

United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale
Above, at top and center right, members of the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale created a prayer ribbon tree and held a ceremony in honor of the victims of the Pulse victims on June 19. At center left and below that, church members hold Love Always Wins Rallies on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale June 14 and June 20. Church members also participated in a Pride Parade June 18.


Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ

Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ marked the tragic events in Orlando with participation by its pastors in the Conference-organized observance in Orlando and a vigil held in Fort Myers. Associate Pastor Deb Kunkel, reflecting on the occasion in a report to the congregation, noted, "I was humbled by the outpouring of love, as well as resonated with the expressions of anger and frustration, and ultimately left moved to do something different to counteract the messages of hate and revenge."

Senior Pastor John Danner attended the public vigil at Centennial Park in Fort Myers. There he joined with close to 2,000 folks in prayers, music and a time of remembrance.

On June 19, Pastor Danner used Luke 9:46-50, as his text for his sermon titled "Making Allies, Making Friends". In his sermon he spoke of his fears as the father of a lesbian woman, and also his resolve to rise above the fear and to pray for the courage to act. He spoke of the importance of making alliances with all those willing to address the twin issues of hate and violence. "Initially," he said, speaking of his first reactions to the news from Orlando, "I was frightened. … What if [my daughter] was caught up in something like what happened last Sunday at Pulse in Orlando? What if some hate-filled soul, spurred on by homophobic preachers and others of a variety of religious persuasions and none, were to. … But then I stopped myself. Then I refuse to give in to fear. Then I remembered I am a person of faith. Faith in a God who calls me to act not out of fear, but out of love. Faith in a God who calls us to reach out to others with similar convictions, similar hopes, similar dreams … for a society where all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed or ethnicity, are treated with respect." After the sermon, Pastor Danner was joined by lay members Paul Roth and Barbara Joy Cooley in reading the names of all those killed in Orlando, followed by a moment of silence, and a prayer.

Plans are already under way for educational offerings in the next year, including a trialogue series featuring Pastor Danner, Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Bat Yam and Imam Abdul'Haq Muhammed of the Quality Life Center in Fort Myers. Additionally, Pastor Danner and Rabbi Soifer will be presenting a forum on Biblical Views on Sexuality."

— Rev. Dr. John H. Danner, senior pastor


Miami Shores Community Church, UCC

New Rainbow banner at Miami Shores Community Church
Miami Shores Community Church purchased and installed a new "Be the Church" rainbow banner on June 16.


Miami Shores Community Church, UCC, set aside time during our worship service June 19 to honor those who died, lighting 49 candles in their memory while their names were read aloud. We finished by lighting the candle of peace. My sermon focused on the dehumanization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.

We purchased a rainbow "Be the Church" banner and installed it on June 16.

Finally, I posted the following on our church Facebook page last week (to date it has generated more than 1.3k responses and over 100 total "shares"):

"Sunday morning's massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Forty-nine people died. Forty-nine precious children of God, gunned down in the prime of their lives. Forty-nine families changed forever by the actions of one ignorant coward with a gun.

The murderer in this senseless tragedy may have acted alone, but the beliefs and biases that shaped and motivated him are sadly not unique. They are pervasive toxins poisoning the people of our communities and claiming the lives of our children. Too many of our friends and neighbors have swallowed the same nasty lie — that our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are somehow less beloved by God, that their lives are less valuable, their relationships less moral, their love less precious in God's sight. Misguided Christian teachings have contributed as much to the development of this dangerous ideology as any other religion or cultural influence. Therefore, it is the sacred duty of every progressive Christian to actively confront and refute these lies. We can no longer pretend that hate and prejudice are just alternative lifestyle choices that harm no one. Or that racism, sexism and homophobia are just naturally occurring variations of the norm. People aren't born that way. The great sin to be confessed and atoned for in the United States today is not the sexual orientation of some of God's beloved children. It is the failure of their neighbors to embrace and affirm them. It is the failure of the church to love as Jesus loved."

— Rev. Meg Watson, pastor

  MSCC social media graphic


Hope United Church of Christ, Rockledge

Hope UCC, Rockledge


On June 18 at 6 p.m., Hope United Church of Christ in Rockledge held a memorial service honoring the victims and loved ones of the Pulse shootings in Orlando. Prior to the service, 49 flags were displayed outdoors around the church sign inviting the community to attend. The service included an opening prayer, prayer of confession, words of assurance, meditation, lighting the 12 rainbow candles, and an invitation for everyone to take an individual candle to light from one of the rainbow candles at the altar. Following the candle lighting, everyone held their lit candles in silent prayer while the new song by Melissa Etheridge entitled "Pulse" was played and pictures of the 49 individuals who had lost their lives were projected on overhead screens. The service was led by three lay leaders of the church, Julie Johnson, Jennifer Therrien and Jean Hawkes.

— Submitted by Jean Hawkes, moderator


Christ's Promise, Auburndale

Christ's Promise, Auburndale
Above, at top, just before dusk, at a Candlelight Remembrance June 13 on Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland, 49 doves were released in memory of the 49 who died in the Pulse nightclub shootings the day before. At center, Christ's Promise joined St. David's Episcopal Church, Church in the Meadows, Wellspring of Central Florida, and Polk Pride for "Pride in Faith" to support Orlando and all LGBTQ people everywhere. At bottom, the church's own "Voices in Song" perform at "Pride in the Park" during this year's Polk Pride 2016 celebration on June 18.


First Congregational UCC of Sarasota

First Congregational UCC of Sarasota
First Congregational UCC of Sarasota held a vigil on June 15, hosting the Congregations of SURE (Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity). "As part of the service, we prayed, sang, read all 49 names of the victims, and a soloist sang 'Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace'," said Rev. Wes Bixby, pastor. The picture above is at the end of the service, with the congregation singing "We Shall Overcome".


Emmanuel United Church of Christ, Sebring

Emmanuel Church of Christ, Sebring
Rev. George Miller and members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Sebring participated in the "Vigil for Orlando: Walk Around Lake Eola" June 19. In addition, a front page article and a Letter to the Editor were published in Highlands Today June 14 and 15, respectively.


Union Congregational Church, West Palm Beach

United Church of Christ at The Villages


United Church of Christ at The Villages

United Church of Christ at The Villages
On June 19, one week after the horrific Orlando Pulse massacre, members of The United Church of Christ at The Villages held a candlelight remembrance vigil. Pictured here, Rev. Drew Willard, pastor, with Imam Abdurrahmam Sykes and Rev. Elizabeth Mitchell Clement, interim pastor at Union Congregational UCC in Tavares, two of many who responded to the invitation to share thoughts and prayers.


Altamonte Chapel, A Community Church, UCC

Altamonte Chapel
Rev. Bob Melhorn, pastor at Altamonte Chapel, stands in line with dozens of others at the Altamonte Mall on June 12, waiting to donate blood. "We encouraged our people to give blood, to pray, and have held a number of small group conversations about our responses," he says. "We also are collecting Panera gift cards to give to the families at the hospital."


Church by the Sea, Bal Harbour

Church by the Sea, Bal Harbour
Rev. Dr. Barbara Asinger and Rev. Robert Asinger from Church by the Sea say a healing prayer at a Pride Seder dinner at Temple Israel in Miami following the shootings in Orlando.


Faith Family UCC, Brandon

Rev. Kathy Rooke blesses pride flag
Rev. Dr. Kathy Rooke blesses the Pride Flag, held by County Commissioner Kevin Beckner on June 16, as the Hillsborough County Commission voted to raise the flag at Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa through June 30 as a symbol of love, compassion and solidarity for the victims, first responders, families, friends, and the LGBT community in response to the Orlando Pulse mass shooting. Rev. Jakob Hero of MCC Tampa also shared a blessing.


Gathering in grief, solidarity and in memory of the victims in Orlando

Denominational leaders of the United Church of Christ gathered in grief, in solidarity, in anger, and in memory of the victims and those injured during an attack at a nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were killed by gunfire early Sunday in the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. Those leaders gathered Tuesday, June 14, in Orlando to express their dismay that members of the LGBT community were targeted and attacked by a shooter with a rifle, and they gathered in Cleveland to express sorrow for those who perished. Read more

Watch video

UCC leaders mourn victims of terrorist attack on gay community in Orlando

God is still speaking