Local NewsNewsReligion

Bering Church Honors Victims of Gun Violence While Demanding Legislative Reform

Bering members holding pieces of the Vidas Robadas installation, which debuted in front of the church on March 3.

In the past five years, over 4,100 Harris County residents have lost their lives to gun violence. Bering Church, an LGBTQ-affirming United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation in the heart of Montrose, will honor these victims through its Vidas Robadas installation this month, while calling on their community to demand stricter gun legislation.

Bering, in partnership with Texas Impact, erected Vidas Robadas (Spanish for “Stolen Lives”) during the church’s Sunday service on March 3. The installation will feature 200 T-shirts, each listing the name of a local person who has died by suicide or murder. Vidas Robadas will be on display in front of Bering through at least Easter Sunday, March 31. Other churches around Harris County will put up similar installations until all of the more than 4,100 gun-violence victims are represented.

“As people of faith, we have a great deal of concern about the ongoing loss of life due to gun violence, and a great deal of frustration that our political leaders aren’t doing enough to address this,” says Bering’s senior pastor, Diane McGehee. “This installation will raise awareness and encourage people who see it to speak up and ask for change. We also want to personalize the victims. These are real people. They had families and communities, and now they are gone. We need to do something about it.”

Bering’s March 3 service included a sermon on serving others, and the congregation celebrated some of the ways it has been doing that. To conclude the service, attendees went outside to hang the T-shirts on frames attached to stakes in front of the church entrance.

Vidas Robadas is on display in front of Bering Church through at least March 31.

“This is an act of worship and we will dedicate it as a sacred act,” McGehee says. “We will pray for those who died, and the families and communities who will be forever impacted by their loss. We will also pray for blessings over our first responders. It will be a prayer of gratitude and blessing, and a prayer that God will give us the courage and wisdom to act.”

Texas Impact, which started the Vidas Robadas project, is an organization that equips people of faith with information and outreach tools to educate their communities. McGehee, who has collaborated with Texas Impact in various pastoral roles for over a decade, says Bering’s partnership with the organization is crucial for helping to educate its community.

McGehee says that Texas Impact provides churches like Bering with accurate information about issues that impact the community, as well as updates on harmful bills proposed by local lawmakers, thus helping prepare folks to speak to their representatives. One of the goals of Vidas Robadas is to connect Texans across the state, so that they can band together to demand stricter gun legislation at the upcoming Texas Legislative Session in 2025. Members of Bering plan on making their voices heard next year at the Capitol, both in person and by writing letters and making phone calls to elected officials.

One of the most recent acts of gun violence in Harris County occurred at Lakewood Church in Houston. “What happened at Lakewood was horrible, and I would never want that to happen anywhere,” McGehee says. “You would think any place of worship is safe, but we can no longer assume that. But it’s not just houses of worship. We realize this is a bigger problem, and until everybody is safe, none of us are.”

McGehee says Bering has a plan in place to promote safety among its membership. The church has an armed security guard on campus and prohibits anyone else from having weapons in the church, including concealed-carry handguns. “God’s house should not be a house of violence, and we are doing our best to keep people safe,” she says.

Vidas Robadas features the names of Harris County residents who have died by murder or suicide in the past five years.

Bering Church is one of Houston’s oldest churches, founded in 1848 by German-speaking immigrants who were unwelcome in other places of worship. The church was originally a United Methodist Church (UMC) congregation situated in downtown Houston before moving into Montrose in 1926.

After many LGBTQ Houstonians moved to Montrose in the 1960s and 1970s, the church’s administrative board decided that everyone would be welcomed without discrimination or prejudice. In 1991, Bering’s membership voted to become a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a United Methodist group that seeks justice for LGBTQ people.

In 2021, Bering voted to disaffiliate with the UMC due to the institution’s anti-LGBTQ policies, and joined the LGBTQ-affirming UCC. Since the denominational change, Bering has built a stronger bond with its nearly 500 members (of whom about 75 percent are LGBTQ).

“It was heartbreaking [to leave the UMC], but it was clear that it was what we needed to do because of the harm that has been done and continues to be done to the LGBTQ community,” McGehee says. “The church has no business excluding people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. There are good people in the UMC who are trying to get this changed, but we couldn’t continue to let that harm be a part of who we are.”

McGehee says joining an LGBTQ-affirming denomination has also allowed Bering to turn more of its attention to helping others through advocating for the rights of all marginalized Texans, including LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, and people of color.

“We haven’t spent so much of our focus on trying to keep a space for ourselves, and instead have gotten to address other issues,” McGehee says. “Our church is thriving and growing into what it needs to be.”

What: Vidas Robadas
When: March 3 at 10:50 a.m. through at least March 31
Where: Bering Church, 1440 Harold St.
Info: beringchurch.org

Comments

Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
Back to top button