A United Methodist congregation in Allen, Texas, is leading an interfaith response to the May 6 mass shooting at a local outlet mall that ended with eight deaths and multiple injuries.
Suncreek United Methodist Church kicked off its interfaith effort, “Love Takes Action,” in a May 7 evening prayer service organized by its music director, Tyler Ferguson, to allow the traumatized Allen community to come together for spiritual comfort in the shooting’s aftermath. A church of about 1,600 members, Suncreek UMC is located about five miles from the mall in Allen, a city of 107,000 residents 25 miles north of Dallas.
The Allen shooting was the 199th gun violence episode recorded in the United States since the beginning of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. By May 15, the site listed 224 mass shootings in the United States, defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed.
Barry Hughes, Suncreek’s senior pastor, announced at the beginning of the service the church had created a QR code to take visitors directly to a page of the church’s website set up for the shooting response, “Love Takes Action.” The page announces a May 22 interfaith event to which Allen residents are invited to begin conversations about responses to the waves of gun violence and mass shootings in their area and across the United States.
“We’re trying to create a space, an ongoing conversation where people can be equipped to do whatever it is that they feel led to do,” he explained to the Dallas Morning News.
The website says: “We feel that the time is now to mobilize people of goodwill to make clear to our elected leaders that we do not accept the violence of mass shootings as a normal part of our life.”
The “Love in Action” page lists four goals for the effort:
- Advocating for gun law reform
- Connecting people to mental health resources
- Safety and crisis response
- Teaching tolerance and acceptance
In a video of the May 7 service, Hughes emphasizes in his message that “Love in Action” isn’t a political response to the May 6 shooting but a mission grounded in Christian faith and United Methodism’s three “general rules” of following Jesus: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.
“We are called to action,” Hughes said. “We’re not only called to do no harm, we’re called to do good. And doing good means we respond to the harm that is done to others.”
He continued: “Our first step when we’re called to action is to hold on to our faith even when it is shaken, so that we have some ground to stand upon to act and to serve God.”
He encouraged those at the service to send an email that night to their elected officials, “and do it tomorrow, and do it the next day. Let’s make our voice be heard.”
Hughes said a sense of helplessness in the wake of mass shootings is unacceptable.
“We are not supposed to accept the ‘truth’ that some try to pass as truth that nothing can be done, that nothing can change, that we have to accept that this is going to be a normal part of our life,” Hughes said. “There is nothing normal about it, and there’s nothing about it that I want to be a part of my life.
“But the only way that can change is if people like us who feel that way make enough noise that people start listening to us. Reach out to those elected officials over and over and over again so that they know there is a large group of people who do not believe we have to accept mass shootings as our life.”
Hughes said United Methodists also need to be advocates for better, broad-based mental health care for their families and communities. Failure to provide mental health services, or for shooters to access such services, is often cited as a factor in motivating mass shootings.
The pastor also touched on an aspect of the United Methodist community that stands in the way of public witness against gun violence and other social ills: “terminal niceness.” Hughes encouraged the congregation to use resources from the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society to learn facts and techniques to talk about the ongoing threat of mass shootings.
“This isn’t a Democratic problem or a Republican problem; it’s a human family problem.”
“We need to be the voice of Jesus in this world,” Hughes urged. “We cannot stand by as countless lives are lost to this insanity. This isn’t a Democratic problem or a Republican problem; it’s a human family problem. We need to say as Christians we will not be silent anymore.”
The congregation broke into applause at Hughes’ words.
The service began with music by the church’s youth choir, Cantate, who sang an anthem by composer Mark Miller, “I Believe.” The lyrics are taken from a message written on the wall of a basement in Cologne, Germany, where Jews hid from Nazi persecution during World War II. Ferguson read the composer’s words: “I composed this music as a testament to power of love over institutionalized hate.”
Also leading the May 7 service were Mary Beth Hardesty-Crouch, lead pastor of 1,100-member First United Methodist Church in Allen, and Bishop Reuben Saenz, episcopal leader of the 420-church North Texas Annual Conference, a region in which Suncreek UMC, First Allen and the outlet mall are located.
In his closing remarks, Saenz told the congregation the May 7 service was the third prayer vigil about mass shootings he had attended in the past two months in North Texas and another region he supervises, the Fort Worth-based Central Texas Annual Conference.
“We do not have to be paralyzed, and there are things we can do,” Saenz said before leading a closing prayer. “God deplores the violence in our homes and communities. Moments like this break God’s heart.”
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