To face the violence in courageous ways

Good Friday vigil
Franconia Conference members joined Christians from all over the Philadelphia region for a Good Friday vigil outside a gun shop. Photo by Jim McIntire.

by Amy Yoder McGloughlin, Germantown Mennonite Church

One Sunday night in February, my husband, Charlie, and I awoke to lights flashing outside of our house.  We live on a quiet street in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, and nothing much happens here, so the lights surprised us.  We expected to see the fire department outside, but it was the SWAT team.

A disabled neighbor had been murdered by a guest of his roommates.  That man was armed and hiding somewhere in the building.

It was unsettling that something like that could happen on our sweet, family-centric block, a place where we knew each other’s names, and shared each other’s stories.  But even more unsettling was that the next morning it was as if nothing had happened.  No one was talking about it, there was no police tape, and kids played on the sidewalk and porches, just feet from where this man’s life was taken.

Charlie and I couldn’t get past the reality that we had never met this neighbor, didn’t know his name, and couldn’t even contact his family to extend our condolences.  Violence in Philadelphia, and in cities all over this country, is swift and deadly.  But it’s also quickly erased.

A few weeks ago, a young couple at our church moved onto a struggling block in East Germantown.  After spending a hopeful weekend with their neighbors on an adjoining block, cleaning up trash and hanging large pieces of art, they learned that within twenty-four hours a dead body had been dumped there.   They could not stop the violence despite their good-faith efforts.

Another young woman from our congregation was recently assaulted at her neighborhood corner store.  After being committed to making Germantown her home, she began to have doubts.  Could she look this kind of violence in the eye every day and keep her passion for justice and sensitivity towards others?

At Germantown Mennonite, rooted solidly in the Anabaptist tradition, we long for peace in this world, for a day when violence will end.  We stand in front of gun shops to protest illegal gun sales, we try to make safe spaces in our neighborhoods, we call our state representatives to let our voices be heard.  But we are only human.  We grow weary.  Violence is overwhelming and we grow tired of hearing the stories.  There’s just too many of them.  And they can become too heavy to hold.

Inspired by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), we long to be in solidarity with people who are hurting.  But, it’s clear that we do not always have the tools to do this in our own context.

Germantown Mennonite is exploring the possibility of a CPT delegation to Israel/Palestine next summer.  We hope to be joined by other Christians from the Philadelphia area who are committed to non-violence in our own communities and throughout the world.  Our prayer is that as we look at violence in another place and see how communities of faith face the violence in courageous ways, we will be inspired, encouraged, and given new visions and new tools to answer the violence we see in our own communities.

If you are interested in a Philadelphia CPT delegation to Israel/Palestine, Germantown Mennonite will be hosting Tarek Abuata, the Israel/Palestine coordinator, at our congregation on Sunday, August 5th.  After we worship together at 10am, we will follow with a potluck, then a time to speak candidly with Tarek about interest in a delegation of this kind.  All are welcome to join us as we explore this possibility.  If you are interested, but cannot attend a meeting, please contact me at pastoramy@germantownmennonite.org or 215.843.5599.

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