But for two pastors with Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Revs. Emily Brewer and Deanna Hollas, the increased media attention gives Presbyterians working to prevent gun violence “a really big microphone,” as Hollas puts it.
“Be careful what you pray for,” said Hollas, ordained last month as PPF’s gun violence ministries coordinator. “The media attention has been interesting and surprising, and it’s taken me to places I haven’t fully processed.”
Some of the national reporting has focused on “this new movement” on which Presbyterians are embarking, she said.
“This is no new movement,” she said. “Presbyterians have been speaking out against gun violence for 50 years.”
Brewer, PPF’s executive director, said that Hollas is grounded and pastoral “and not afraid to have difficult conversations. She is smart about organizing and working with people in the local context and building on what they’re already doing. She has come to Presbyterian Peace Fellowship during a time of national conversation on gun violence when people are energized to make things happen.”
“She has an organizer’s mind, and she understands how change can happen,” Brewer added. “We know that gun violence won’t be diminished only by changes in the law. It’s a culture shift and laws working together.”
Brewer noted that PPF doesn’t advocate for the abolition of guns. “People at PPF are all along the spectrum,” she said of the 130-member organization. The goal is to “diminish gun violence through safer gun laws and help people understand how to prevent gun violence.”
PPF uses a number of denominational resources to respond to people who ask for help at the congregational level. She called the recent media attention “exciting, but we are a piece of a coalition, not the sole warriors. We support the policies of the denomination in collaboration with the folks (in the church’s national office).”
“We keep hearing about the declining church,” she said. “When the church does stuff worth showing up for, people show up. They want something they can engage in to be part of a church doing meaningful work in the world.”
She called Presbyterians’ efforts to reduce gun violence “the church reimagining ministry in a cool way. I think the Presbyterian Church is doing that more and more often. This is an issue people feel stuck on, but they see this as their call to common ministry.”
Indeed, on Friday evening, Big Tent participants plan to march as part of the Baltimore Ceasefire Prayer Walk.
“We are really excited about that and the (2018 General Assembly) march to end cash bail,” Brewer said. “We love to see the denomination engage this way. It can be transformational for the people who participate and for people seeing the wider church take this kind of action.”
That level of engagement, which also includes accompanying refugees and immigrants, is what drew Hollas toward Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in the first place.
“All Presbyterian Peace Fellowship wants to know is, is there a need and can we fill it?” Hollas said. “Their only question is, what would Christ do? We can figure out the details as we go. That’s impressive. I think it’s a model that congregations could learn from.”