Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford
On Saturday, June 16, at 10:00 a.m., the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) and the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, gathered with Episcopalian members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Episcopalian gun owners who are not members of the NRA for a conversation surrounding the rising epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Bishop Douglas greeted the 17 individuals gathered at 10:05 a.m. and asked people who were non-gun-owners to dismiss themselves for the sake of creating a safe environment for gun-owners to share their concerns; four individuals left. He also conveyed the wishes of Suffragan Laura Ahrens who wanted to participate in the conversation but was away attending a conference on Hispanic Ministries.
Bishop Douglas opened with a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and identified the three non-gun-owners that remained in the room and their specific roles: himself as Bishop Diocesan, Dean Howell as Dean of the Cathedral and host, and Ms. Allison Huggins, member of Bishop Douglas’ staff, present to take notes. Sitting in a circle, Bishop Douglas began by inviting each person to state their name, their parish affiliation in Connecticut, and a few sentences about their relationship to and experience with guns. After introductions, Dean Howell distributed a copy of the VISIONS inc, Guidelines for Mutuality in wide use throughout ECCT as a way of holding respectful conversations across difference, and Bishop Douglas explained them. The group unanimously agreed to adopt the guidelines for the gathering.
The format for the morning’s conversation was modeled as an indaba, the South African way of reflection and discernment utilized at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. Douglas explained indaba as a “circle of elders who come together for deep and meaning conversation across differences sharing truths, and seeing what truth develops,” In an indaba, each person is invited to speak their truth or can pass and offer their thoughts at a later time, and every person gets to speak once before anyone speaks a second time. Bishop Douglas invited participants to consider the question: “What are we, as Christian and Episcopalian gun owners called to do to address the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, in Connecticut, and in our neighborhoods?”
The conversation lasted nearly two hours. Individuals shared personal testimonies to their experience of gun ownership, childhood memories, the sport of hunting, target, pistol, blackpowder, other gun shooting sports, and the skill of weaponry. Among the topics voiced were: the adequacy/severity of current gun laws, especially in Connecticut; the contribution of the NRA in gun safety programs, feelings of vilification as gun owners by society and some leaders of the Episcopal Church; the need to address the root causes of violence in our (U.S.) culture; the legacy of the Colt firearm industry in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut; and the rising number of suicides in our nation. Most participants echoed an early statement that no gun-owners support “gun violence” and that gun safety and education on the correct use of firearms is of paramount importance.
The afternoon concluded with a moment for individuals to share appreciations, regrets, and learnings with the group. Participants were grateful for the open dialogue and safe space for gun-owners to share their concerns directly with the bishop. The group had a desire to continue the honest dialogue in the future, and Bishop Douglas said he will accept an invitation offered by one of the participants to visit a shooting range to learn more.
The afternoon ended with the group standing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, followed by a blessing by the Bishop.