Offering of Letters: Worship Service for Gun Violence Prevention

For congregations already committed to preventing gun violence, use the worship outline below. You could invite members of the Presbytery and other local churches to join you for the service. After the service, invite those who are interested in learning more or committing to action to meet immediately following the service or a week later at a predetermined location. As a group, work your way through PPF’s “Gun Violence Prevention Curriculum” or Jim Atwood’s book, “America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé,” using the study guide questions created by Jan Orr-Harter. (See this Toolkit, Educational Resources)

For congregations who are committed to reform but want to learn a little more before offering their letters in a worship service, you might want to screen the 54 minute movie Trigger, followed immediately by an “Offering of Letters” Worship Service. (See Toolkit Educational Resources) After the service, invite those who are interested in learning more or committing to action to meet a week later at a predetermined location. As a group, work your way through PPF’s “Gun Violence Prevention Curriculum” or Jim Atwood’s book, “America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé,” using the study guide questions.

For congregations that aren’t as familiar with the issue and need more time to learn, digest, and discern how they are called to respond, you might plan a screening of the movie Trigger OR an educational session using PPF’s “Gun Violence Prevention Curriculum,” Session # 1. After the meeting, explain what the Offering of Letters worship service is, and provide the participants with the sample letter. Invite the participants to join you for the service, set at a later date. If they feel called to do so, they may write their letters in advance or write them within the service itself. Then hold the Offering of Letters Service, as outlined below, and afterwards invite those who are interested in learning more or committing to action to meet a week later at a predetermined location. As a group, work your way through PPF’s “Gun Violence Prevention” Curriculum or Jim Atwood’s book, “America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé,” using the study guide questions.

 

Outline Sample Service 
Offering of Letters

Call to Worship Option 1  

(1 John 3:18)

One: Little children, let us love, not in word or speech,
Many: but in truth and action.
One: Let us worship God.

Call to Worship Option 2

(Luke 1:78-79)

One: By the tender mercy of our God,
Many: the dawn from on high will break upon us.
One: Giving light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Many: to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Opening Hymn

Call to Confession

Friends, we are reminded constantly that Rachel still weeps for her children. Our hearts are heavy as we consider those who are wounded and die this very week, this very day, this very hour on our city streets, in our schools, and in our homes. We have hurt each other by our action, and by our inaction. In penitence and in abiding faith for our world made whole, let us confess our sin before God and neighbor. Let us pray.

Prayer of Confession Option 1

God of justice and of grace, sometimes we feel far from bearing your image. Although we can sense that things are not right, we prize the comfort of familiarity over the risk of the unknown. Although we know the numbers and statistics, they largely remain just that, failing to leave an imprint on our heart and conscience. We hear but we don’t listen, see but we don’t behold, feel but we don’t act.

In your steadfast kindness and mercy, forgive us. Hasten us to know ourselves as claimed in spite of our darkness, and free us to be agents of your peace. Amen.

OR (especially for services NOT proceeded by a screening of Trigger or any educational forum)

Prayer of Confession Option 2

One: God of justice and of grace, sometimes we feel far from bearing your image. 90 people die of every day from gun violence in the U.S. 10 of these are children. Lord, in your mercy,

Many: Forgive us.

One: God of justice and of grace, sometimes we feel far from bearing your image. The U.S. rate of firearms   deaths for children is twelve times higher than 25 other industrialized nations combined. Lord, in your mercy,

Many: Forgive us.

One: God of justice and of grace, sometimes we feel far from bearing your image. More than 30,000 Americans die from guns every year in the U.S. This is far more than the total of servicemen and women killed in the war in Iraq. Lord, in your mercy,

Many: Forgive us.

One: God of justice and of grace, sometimes we feel far from bearing your image. 40% of the guns bought in the United States are bought from private sellers, mostly at Gun Shows. Neither background checks nor firearms safety classes are required in these private exchanges. Lord, in your mercy,

Many: Forgive us.

Words of Assurance

[The Minister may use the words that are most familiar to him/her/them]

Prayer for Illumination

God, it is by the power of your Spirit that these words still live. Subordinate in us any voice but your own, and grant us understanding.

The Word Read 

Scripture Suggestions:  

  • Psalm 140
  • Romans 12:2
  • Isaiah 11:9
  • Psalm 25:4
  • Galatians 5:1
  • Isaiah 58:6-9

The Word Proclaimed

[Because time needs to be left for the Offering of Letters, the message should be on the shorter side, about 10 minutes.]

Offering of Letters Introduction

[At this point, a worship leader should introduce the offering, explaining where to find the sample letter in the bulletin, the list of congressional representatives and their addresses, and the envelopes. He/She/They should also make it clear that if a worshipper does not finish his or her letter within the time allotted, they may finish it and add it to the plate after worship. Those who do not feel called to offer a letter at this time should be acknowledged, affirmed, and invited to use the time for prayer or meditation.]

Letter-Writing

[Instrumental music, so as not to distract, may be played. This should take approximately 10 minutes.]

Procession of the Letters  

Music: Canticle of the Turning

[As they are led, worshippers should take their letters to the offering plates at the front of the sanctuary. Ushers may pick up letters for those confined to their seats. Instructions of this sort should be included in the bulletin and/or stated in the introduction.]

Prayer of Dedication

God, it is by your grace that we offer our voices in praise and in service. In your infinite wisdom and love, accept and use our offerings in service to your indwelling kingdom, that they may be one step toward making your world more whole. Amen.

Closing Hymn

Charge and Benediction       

(Ephesians 3:18-20)

One: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Many: Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

What You'll Need
for the Offering of Letters Service

1. Review Worship, Scripture and Hymn suggestions in this Toolkit

2. Include the following items in your bulletin:

a. A listof relevant Senators or Representatives from your district with their addresses. To determine relevancy, consider the following: What district/districts are likely to be represented by those gathered? Is it more beneficial to write to a Congressional Representative or a Senator right now?

b. Paperto write on, a pen, a stamped envelope.

c. A sample letter. (See below.)

 

Sample Letter

 

(Date)

Dear Senator                            or Rep.                                 ,

My name is ________________. I write as a concerned citizen and as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Two months ago, on December 14, 2017, we marked the fifth anniversary of the terrible shootings of young children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT; a day we thought would surely bring about change in our country’s gun laws. To our great shame and detriment as a nation, it did not.

Five years later, there has been no legislative progress at the federal level. At the state and local level, laws have been passed that make citizens less safe.

And because of this legislative inaction, another massacre at another school, has taken place; this time, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. More promising young lives were ended. More dedicated, caring educators were gunned down. More classmates, coworkers, families, friends and communities have been traumatized and grief stricken, because of the complete failure of our legislative system to protect citizens from preventable gun violence.  

This incident, along with other recent gun violent events, such as the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC; the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando; FL; the massacre in Las Vegas; and the thousands of smaller scale incidents that take place across our country every single day, have made it clear that the time for action to reduce gun violence is now.

I urge you, Senator/Representative _________, to support and pass sensible gun control measures that will save lives. More than 33,000 Americans are killed every year by guns. That includes 10 children per day. Even one is too many. This is simply unacceptable.

There are things we can do to prevent more deaths, and we must. I urge you, as our elected servant of the common good, to work now for the passage of universal background checks and closure of the “gun show loophole” as well as a permanent ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, silencers, “bump stocks” and other accessories that turn firearms into weapons of mass destruction.  None of these efforts will infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners and will, ultimately, keep us safer.

[If you have a personal story to share, insert it here. Be brief and honest.]

Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” As his follower, I strive to fulfill that calling every day, and I will continue to advocate for that which creates peace in our society. I urge you to join me in this mission, following whatever or whomever it is that compels you to live in love instead of fear.

Sincerely,
_____________________