Text by Patrick Scriven | Media by Rev. David Valera, Patrick Scriven and Teri Tobey
United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest were out in numbers on Saturday, March 24th to participate in various March For Our Lives rallies across the region. These siblings events to a march in Washington D.C., which drew several hundred thousand participants, were held to put pressure on politicians to enact common sense gun control measures and address other precipitating causes of gun violence. Like the march in D.C. which was organized by high school students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, students provided key leadership roles.
Rev. David Valera, Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference, spent Saturday in Seattle following the sibling March for Our Lives that happened there. Valera spoke with Emilia Allard, a senior at Ballard High School in Seattle, who got things started with an Instagram post a little over a month ago. Tens of thousands participated in Seattle’s march which started at Cal Anderson Park. Youth voices there were complemented by politicians including Governor Jay Inslee, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, as well as the talents of musicians like Dave Matthews and Brandi Carlile.
A number of United Methodist Churches encouraged members to participate in Saturday’s march. Given Seattle’s less than ideal congestion, several churches from the suburbs, and neighboring cities, organized carpools for youth and adults to attend together. Rev. Joe Kim, pastor of Bothell United Methodist Church described participation as an expression of faith “to stand for justice with our children and youth.” The church’s youth leader, Ben Linder, said that it was fitting that this was also Palm Sunday weekend noting that they are standing with those looking for “sensible gun reform” and also with those “who have lost their lives due to gun violence.” Greg McLaughlin, youth director at Edmonds United Methodist Church who brought members down on their bus, noted that adults can help young people to know that “they matter and have power.”
Tacoma’s Mason United Methodist Church played host on Friday evening to students who were making signs and planning the last details of the next day’s march. When lay member Megan Kilpatrick noticed a few weeks ago that the group was looking for meeting space she suggested that they check with the church. Rev. Karen Yokota Love was eager to open the doors to the group noting that it was one of the most important things the church has hosted in her eight months as pastor there. In addition to basic hospitality, members of the church have gone further to provide snacks and pizza for the young organizers.
During the meeting, it was announced that the group had received a grant for $5,000 to help to pay for some of the costs of the rally. The students had organized themselves into different committees, each responsible for planning an aspect of the march. Lydia, in charge of finance, had helped the group to fundraise over $1,500. One fundraiser discussed was done in partnership with Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante where students bused tables for an evening and were able to keep 10% of the proceeds. The restaurant’s owner, Joe Stortini, is a member of Fircrest United Methodist Church.
Nate Minor, a seventh grader in Tacoma, was the initial organizer of Tacoma’s successful and intentionally accessible march at People’s Park. “I want to see something change,” said Minor of why he started things,“and I noticed that it doesn’t unless somebody does something.” Planning grew to include participants from all of Tacoma’s public schools with two other student leaders, Anna Nguyen and Claire Weckl, representing high school and college students respectively. Nate’s mother, Louisa Erickson, shared that this Nate and other students have spent many of their evenings dedicated to the event, after homework.
Among those making their signs on Friday evening were Olivia and Ella Bartholomew, youth members of Mason UMC. Olivia shared that a recent phone threat at her school was very scary. She was participating because she didn’t want to lose a friend or her sister to gun violence. “I want them to be safe,” offered Olivia. Her sister Ella agreed adding, “I want to make a difference. With all of our young voices coming together, we can prevent a school shooting.”
Asked about their church’s involvement, both girls were happy that the meetings were hosted there. “It is comforting, said Olivia. “I feel safe at church and this makes me feel even safer.” Ella struck a different note sharing, “I feel good that more people will know about this church. We don’t have a lot of younger kids at church and I like that they know we are in the community.”
On Saturday in Olympia, around 4,500 people gathered for a march with started at on the steps of the state Capitol. No politicians spoke at the event but students offered speeches that displayed a depth of knowledge and social awareness the generation isn’t often given credit for.
Clergy and laypersons from a number of Capitol Circuit churches were present in support of the march. Chris Knight, the administrator at Olympia First United Methodist Church commented on the march saying, “I think it’s important that the church takes stands. We have to make a difference in the community.” He added that he was impressed, but not surprised, to see “church members just showing up by themselves.”
Joy and Charis Brown brought their parents the Revs. Curtis and Meredith Brown to the march. Asked why it was important to them to participate, both sisters shared that the prospect of a school shooting terrified them. Joy described a recent situation where her school was put on lock down after someone left a threatening note in a bathroom which read “I have a gun.” Charis shared how the all of the “big guns” made them feel powerless but they needed to do something, saying “that’s why we’re marching.”
For Joy and Charis, where the Church should stand on the matter is a no-brainer. “The Church is a social organization,” said Joy, “it should help people.” To her, Jesus is saying, “Why would you think this is okay?” Charis offered similar thoughts. “God is not the biggest fan of violence or of watching people die … This matters.”
Like internet memes, the signs found at marches and protests can range from crude to clever with some accomplishing both simultaneously. Still, popular signs can serve as crib notes for those who are seeking to understand the zeitgeist of the day. “Prayer is not enough!” words which graced more than a few signs, might feel like an attack at first glance. This critique can be understandably disconcerting to church members who are more sincere than the politicians who have used these words devoid of any discernable action.
Another sign which said, “What if these kids are the answer to our thoughts and prayers?” offered a different path which many Pacific Northwestern United Methodists seemed eager to take. Engagement, listening, supporting and taking action alongside are all things in our Wesleyan DNA.
While there may indeed be differences of opinion in regards to solutions, many Methodists in the Pacific Northwest appear to be united in taking notes from, and adding their support to, these marching young people who desire safer schools and communities free from weapons of war.
Rev. David Valera serves as Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference. Teri Tobey is the Program Associate for Young People’s Ministries. Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministries.