April 10th was the 100th day of 2023. It was also the 10th day of the month and the 15th mass shooting of 2023 in the United States that included children. Three nine-year-olds. One hundred days and already 146 mass shootings in our country.
That same day I had a conversation with a very active participant in Women of the ELCA who I have known for years. As we were winding up our conversation about planning a retreat, I mentioned the day’s mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. This participant is a woman with children and a proud grandmother of at least three nine-year-olds. Her response was a demand for a “new” litany or “something” from the churchwide organization that she could share with her women and congregation. The “something” had to be not too political or judgmental. I thanked her for her request. I want to say to her and all who are waiting, there will be no new litany. And here’s why.
The first Rachel’s day occurred in 1994 in Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago. Two years later, the Metro Chicago Synodical Women’s Organization brought a memorial to the Third Triennial Convention (1996) of Women of the ELCA to broaden awareness of the violence children face and actions to address it. For the common good of children everywhere, the convention passed the memorial, resolving “That ELCA women encourage their congregations to recognize the first Sunday in May each year as Rachel’s Day, based on Jeremiah 31:15–17 wherein Rachel grieved for her children, to mourn the loss of our children and to renounce the forces of evil and fear that plague our nation.”
A new litany is not the answer. There is no quick fix. But we can start by reclaiming the real purpose and Rachel herself.
On April 10, I thanked the caller because her demand was the barometer of how many are feeling. We are numb, tired, overwhelmed, and lost as to how and why we need to respond when we can’t keep up or do anything about the thousands of children that are shot and killed each year.
We must for the children.
We must embody Rachel. Her single action calls us to relentlessly weep and mourn for children who make no laws, purchase no guns or ammunition, nor vote. Nonetheless, children are shot and killed each year, in big cities and small towns.
Children. Shot. Dead. These three words do not belong together, and we can do something about it.
I’m sure Rachel was tired, but she never lost focus and she had impossible hope for the children. Children are no longer the focus and they must be. The caller was right: your efforts don’t have to be political (although it wouldn’t be a bad thing) or judgmental but like Rachel, we must find our voice, to speak up for the common good. And make it heard where it will make a difference for every nine-year-old you know. Children are our link to the past, our reason for right now, and our hope for the future.
Here are three things you can do.
- Write your own litany. Pray it. Share it.
- Make “I am Rachel” buttons. Wear the button every day. When asked ‘what does that mean’ or ‘why do you wear it every day,’ tell them. Keep the conversations going.
- Call your local, state, and national elected officials (here you can be political and judgmental, but accurate). Asked them how they are keeping children safe and alive from gun violence. And wait for an answer. Call relentlessly.
This year I am Rachel. Will you join me?
Valora Starr is director for discipleship, Women of the ELCA.