‘Something Different this Time’

Bishops Stokes and Beckwith with young protesters. • Nina Nicholson

The Episcopal Church was well-represented at March for Our Lives events in Washington, D.C., and across the country on March 24.

Ten Episcopal bishops participated in an ecumenical prayer vigil attended by 2,000 people at Washington National Cathedral on the evening before the D.C. march. It was less of a march than a rally, with more than three hours of presentations from a stage on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the Capitol. Other Episcopal churches and dioceses participated in rallies held throughout the country.

Bishops from the two dioceses in New Jersey spent the afternoon together in Washington as part of a large contingent of Episcopalians and Lutherans from throughout the state. Buses departed before dawn from four cities throughout the Garden State, arranged by the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey.

LEAMNJ advocates in the state legislature for the official positions of the Episcopal Dioceses of New Jersey and Newark and the New Jersey Synod of the Lutheran Church. LEAMNJ’s slogan for the day was “praying with our feet to end gun violence.”

Clad in their purple cassocks, Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark and Bishop William “Chip” Stokes of the Diocese of New Jersey attracted quite a bit of attention as they walked toward the venue through canyons of government buildings. Crowd sizes are always a contentious issue, and the estimates ranged from 180,000 to the organizers’ 850,000.

Regardless of the number, the concentration of smartphones overwhelmed local cell towers, making it difficult for people to connect. The Rev. Sara Lilja, a Lutheran minister who is LEAMNJ’s executive director, caught up with the two Episcopal bishops shortly before the program began at noon. She joked that she had found them by asking bystanders if they had seen purple robes. Beckwith and Stokes repeatedly posed for selfies with marchers.

Beckwith is one of the conveners of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which he said was formed soon after the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012. The group now includes about 80 Episcopal bishops. He was unaware, when he arrived at the vigil the night before, that he had been selected to read the Prayers of the People in tandem with another cleric.

Stokes also is a member of Bishops United. “I’m here to stand with the kids from Parkland, mostly,” he told TLC. “As soon as they announced they were going to come to Washington on March 24, I was on board. Their voices have resonated in a way that I think no others have,” he said. “There seems to be something different this time.”

Bishops United works against gun violence through public liturgy, spiritual support, teaching on Christian compassion, and “persistent advocacy for common sense gun safety measures that enjoy the support of gun owners and non-gun owners alike,” according to the organization’s website.

Episcopal News Service collected a social media feed of Episcopal participation in demonstrations elsewhere, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Akron, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and many other cities.

Kirk Petersen


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