Alongside two bowls of ashes that will sit on the altar at St. Mark Presbyterian today, there will be a third bowl – bearing gunpowder. While the ashes will grace the foreheads of the faithful on Ash Wednesday as a reminder of their mortality, the gunpowder will set the tone as a symbol for the kind of conversations congregants can expect to have at the Newport Beach church during Lent, pastor Mark Davis said. “We’re a nation where 30,000 people die each year as a result of gun violence,” he said. “This Lent, for us, will be about thinking about violence in the world and challenging it. It’ll be about facing violence and imagining peace.” And his flock isn’t going to do all that alone. They are going to hold hands with members of the largely African American New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, whose pastor, the Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, lost her best friend, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, in the June shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Members of both churches will hold weekly conversations about issues that might be considered cringeworthy in many circles – race relations, gun control and restorative vs. retributive justice. Davis said these are appropriate conversations to have during Lent, the 40-day period that represents the time Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. For Christians, Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. “I know we’ll be skating on thin ice with these issues,” Davis said. “But it’s something we need to do. If we don’t like it, that’s on us.” Goodjoin said churches cannot afford to ignore the reality of gun violence. “When the ashes are placed on my forehead, I’ll identify with the Savior on the cross who went there amid much violence,” she said. “I’ll feel closer to my friend who was massacred in church, to the children who died in Sandy Hook and the victims of the San Bernardino shooting. “We need to pull the trigger of peace for a more whole community and just society, and touch those issues some churches refuse to touch.” Goodjoin said her church will host a town hall on gun violence April 12.
– Deepa Bharath – Staff Writer