Orlando: Milton’s Vigil of Grief and Response
In the very early morning of June 12, 2016 a single gunman shot and killed forty-nine people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Many of us at that morning’s worship service either hadn’t heard the news yet or hadn’t fully appreciated the magnitude. Early news reports suggested a radical Muslim terrorist motivation; later reports cast it as a hate crime directed at the gay and Latino population celebrating in the nightclub that Saturday night.
The massacre’s motivation mattered little to Milton’s Interfaith Clergy Association (MICA). By Wednesday of that week “a Vigil of Grief and Response to the Orlando Massacre” had been organized and publicized. Wednesday evenings on Milton’s Town Green are generally reserved for concerts at the Baron Hugo Gazebo, and this week was no exception. Before the band concluded its set with “America the Beautiful,” an invitation was made for the audience to linger for the Vigil and in fact many did. Many more, spanning Milton’s diverse faith communities, arrived specifically for the Vigil.
Rainbow flags were hung from the Gazebo’s joists. Fifty names were read, quietly, deliberately, and respectfully. Each name was followed by a soft chime. Forty–nine victims, named and recognized as individuals. The name of the shooter, who also died at the scene, made fifty. MICA’s position on this inclusion was clear: “Our faith calls us to love our enemies as well. Love does win and we must continue to live the way we pray.”
Remarks were made, prayers were offered, songs were sung and candles were lit as the town of Milton came together, confused, frustrated, grieving, uncertain of anything, seeking support from a community. East Church’s Pastor Shelly Davis offered a moving, personal homily at the Vigil. The text of her message is available as a PDF document here.
It was a gathering no one could have wished there would ever be a need for, and from which no one wanted to leave. In the darkening evening soft conversations continued in small groups long after the closing prayer was offered and the last candle was extinguished.
Shock, sorrow and bewilderment were still collectively on our hearts a week later. A portion of East Church’s worship service on Sunday, June 19 included an invitation to the congregants to come forward and light a tea candle in memory of the slain. Again, fifty candles. Again, one each for the forty–nine victims and one more for the gunman who also died at the scene. Each tea candle was lit from the steady flame of the Christ candle which we traditionally light at Advent and Easter services. Each bright flame was carefully placed in trays filled with rainbow–colored salt crafted with love by Janice while Lynn filled the sanctuary with piano music. Coming together solemnly as a community on the side of love was a deeply moving expression of our solidarity with all people made in the sacred image of our God.