By Annette Hinkle
In response to last Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Rev. Alison Cornish, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, organized a multi-faith vigil against assault weapons for Friday, December 21 at Marine Park in Sag Harbor at 9:30 a.m.
Was the impetus for the upcoming vigil?
I posted a pastoral letter on Saturday, as I’m sure many minsters did, and opened the conversation after the service to talk about what people were thinking or feeling about the events [in Sandy Hook]. We had 10 to 12 people take part in a wide ranging conversation and they are in shock, angry, grieving and frightened. They probably represent a good microcosm of our population. When we went around I think a general feeling in the circle is the need to stand up against the ongoing presence of high capacity weaponry in our culture. It’s something we as a faith community need to do.
The vigil will be held exactly one week after the shooting — down to the hour of the attack at 9:30 a.m. What do you hope will be the outgrowth?
This movement is two pronged. We’re standing in honor of the people who aren’t here with us anymore. We’re also placing ourselves as a community of consciousness. What’s our responsibility here as human beings and people of faith to speak out?
One of the roles faith communities have is to be a moral voice, about not just firearms, but mental health, the entertainment industry and how violence is portrayed and the way we treat one another, person to person.
The other role which I brought up to the group, is that faith communities are communities of connection. One thing I was reading over and over is how disconnected and isolated the perpetrator was. The resources of faith communities is to build community, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and then look at what’s left to turn around, and they should create youth groups. I’m seeing a call to faith communities to take our rightful place in the whole structure and not as paper cutouts.
We as faith communities have to be part of the conversation. We need to understand what we can do and what we haven’t been doing. We must have three dimensional full presence in the life of a community.
We have seen far too many of these shootings in recent years, but given the horror of this killing and the age of the victims, does it feel like we might finally be at a turning point?
I think it remains to be seen, but people are hopeful at that prospect.
Our congregation was involved in getting ammo removed from K-Mart [in Bridgehampton]. We thought we had accomplished something. Then we got completely road blocked in Riverhead.
There seems to be a more clear direction from Obama. Let him be the person who has the political capital and will to get it done.
Again when we were talking it came up – what makes us so different from Canada and Japan? Is it the cultural environment? The freedoms we embrace run amok? What is it?
So did your congregants answer that question?
I didn’t encourage them to answer or debate – it’s too tender a time. It’s not easy for our congregation to say things and let them sit side by side. But that was the purpose.
Speaking of tough questions, as a minister, what do you say when people ask why such terrible things happen?
I’m a theist. I don’t believe in a God who allows things to happen or prevents them from happening. I don’t believe God tucks little messages into horrific events. I do believe God is present in amazing acts of heroism — our good nature — and that’s what I try to look for and support, lift up and create the ground for it to happen over and over.
There’s no meaning and no sense here. That doesn’t stop us from trying to make meaning or sense of it. We’re humans and try to put it together.
Holding the space for people to be wherever they are on this is my job more than anything else. And to listen in a way that affirms whatever they’re thinking. Some people want solace, some want to storm the barricade.
I encourage them not to do any of it alone.