“The Good Friday Vigil Against Gun Violence emerged out of what Denver experienced as the Summer of Violence in 1993, when there was a high incidence of gun deaths in the metro region. The staff of Washington Park UCC thought it would be important to lead a prayer service and protest, using symbolism from the Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross, at locations where a child was killed by a gun. This idea took a lot more work to implement than we initially had thought, so the first vigil took place on Good Friday of 1995. We have been doing the vigil ever since. We expanded it to include anyone who has been killed by a gun, not just children. Good Friday is an appropriate time to do this; we believe Christ is crucified in every act of violence.
“The vigil is a three-hour prayer service, loosely based on the Stations of the Cross. The service is open to the entire community, and since the beginning, the group traveling to sites has been ecumenical (and occasionally interfaith).”
Written by Rev. Allyson Sawtell, member of Washington Park United Church of Christ, Denver, Colorado, USA
“Please do not take these meditations verbatim for your own use. Go ahead and use the imagery, but make it your own. In order to be led with sensitivity and integrity, your liturgy needs to come from your own heart, your own pain, your community’s pain, and the situations you have chosen from your own community. It will not translate well or be done with integrity simply to copy what is written here below.
“As you write your own meditations, you may find a sense of heaviness and grief. That’s what I experience every time I sit down to write this material. That’s good. May it open up your compassion for the victims, families, and survivors of gun violence. May your pain be healing for others….”
The basic order of our liturgy usually consists of:
- A description of the shooting (date, people involved, what happened, any follow-up such as arrests, etc.)
- Description of the Station you’ll be using
- A few words relating the Station with the shooting
- Short prayer. If you do a responsive prayer, use a simple response, such as “God have mercy.” Don’t do a long, responsive litany; it’s not appropriate to stay too long at any one site, especially if it’s a residential setting.
- Song – usually one you think most people know, and do only one verse or chorus.
- Flowers – one for each person killed at that site; have several extra in case there are family or friends there. During the singing, have someone place the flower on the site (and hand one to the family, if present).
- Announce the next stop’s location. At the last stop, thank people for coming and leave them with a few words of hope. (Maybe use a more hopeful song at the last stop.)
Station One – Jesus is sentenced to death
On December 11, 2004, near this location, a16-year old young man was shot at a birthday party, after a fight broke out and shots were fired. He died later at Children’s Hospital.
This youth was not identified until a later date; he was Byris Williams. But when many of us first read about Byris’ death, he was still nameless to the world. Today we remember Byris Williams, call him by name, and pray for his family and friends.
The Station we commemorate here is the First Station – Jesus is condemned to die.
Jesus is condemned to death. And you wonder if Pilate even remembered – or knew– his name.
Too many people go unnamed or unremembered. Their deaths warrant just a few words in the paper, if that. Jesus is condemned to die, and doesn’t even make the obituary page. It’s old news in no time, and most of the rest of us get on with our lives.
But a hole has been ripped in the hearts of Byris’ family and friends. A hole has been ripped in the heart of our community as well. Because of this violence, none of us will ever be the same. We are the lesser because one 16-year old child, for a time nameless, was taken from this world in an act of violence.
In this city, where shootings are no surprise and violence seems to be the easiest response to anger and conflict, Jesus is sentenced to death. Jesus was sentenced to death when the shots rang out and Byris was killed.
Good Friday is indeed a God-awful time. Activism can and must come soon, and Easter is indeed a reality – but now, today, we stand in the pain.
Come by here, God, and gently hold those who mourn. Come by here, God, and help us put an end to violence.
Song –“Come by Here, my Lord, come by here” (tune: Kum By Yah)
The complete liturgy is available on the Simple Living Works! website, along with numerous other progressive and thoughtful worship resources for the church year.