Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Our anger over Orlando 

  • Free Palmese and Tarah Newell , both of Springdield, at the vigil held in Northampton Wednesday night to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings.

Published: 6/17/2016 11:01:28 PM


On Monday evening, our church in Haydenville held a service in response to the shootings in Orlando. There were readings, prayers and much weeping. After a time of silence, Pastor Chris Mereschuk passed around a basket filled with 49 strips of paper, each with the name of someone who was killed in Orlando written on it, and their age.  

We took the strips of paper as the basket was passed through the pews, and then Pastor Chris invited us to come forward, one at a time, and call out the name. Chris lit a candle for each person named. At the very end, Chris, through his tears, said the shooter’s name and lit the 50th candle.

When I went forward, I called out the name on my little strip of paper: Stanley Almodovar III, age 23. The next day I went to the copy center and had my little strip of paper laminated, and I have been carrying it with me ever since.

When I picked my strip of paper out of the basket, all I knew of my victim was his name and age.  But the next day I learned that Stanley Almodovar III was from Springfield. A pharmacy technician, Stanley was a big-hearted, happy man, according to the Orlando Sentinel. He fussed with his hair and changed the color often. Described by his Aunt Yoly as an “an amazing person with a good soul,” Stanley Almodovar had a promising future.

I had, by chance, picked out of the basket the name of one of our own. A young man from Springfield — maybe doing the salsa when he was gunned down in a spray of bullets filled with hate. May you rest in peace, Stanley Almodovar III. May you rest in peace.

Because I am a minister, people often ask me hard questions. Sometimes I have answers.  Often I don’t. The most common questions include: is there a heaven; is there a hell; is there evil in the world? I answer yes to all three.

I believe we encounter heaven on earth when we experience those fleeting moments that are perfect — grace-filled, love-filled, peace-filled, extraordinary moments. I believe we also experience hell on earth — those horrific moments when everything is as terrifying and painful as can be. And I think evil is found in words or actions that are the antithesis of what God intended for us in the world — beauty, serenity, harmony and justice.

I believe evil is afoot in this country. I believe that when legislators fail to pass common sense laws to curb gun violence, that is evil. I believe that when the words about compassion, love, inclusion and mercy in our sacred texts are distorted and used to justify homophobia and transphobia, that is evil. I believe that when profits are chosen over people time and time again, that is evil.

I believe that when young LGBTQ people of color — dancing, flirting, kissing, expressing their love — are killed because of who they are, that is evil.

I watched the Tony Awards on Sunday evening and saw Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit show “Hamilton,” deliver his emotional sonnet that contained the words, “…love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

I think his sentiment is moving and I find his words healing. But I have the need to say: anger and outrage are also appropriate now. And even needed.

I am a pastor. I am supposed to be talking about looking to the future and finding hope. But I am not. I am talking about looking to the past and seeing children gunned down in elementary school, teenagers killed in high school, university students slaughtered on campus, movie-goers murdered in a theater, parishioners shot in church, and now revelers slain in a nightclub. I am looking at our past and frightened about our future. How soon will we be lighting 50 candles again?

I am thinking about Holly Near’s song, “We Are a Gentle Angry People” and feeling like we need to express the angry side. I believe it is a good time to express our anger toward the NRA, gun lobbyists, elected officials who have not supported sane gun legislation, and candidates who are throwing fuel on the fire of bigotry.

I know I will come around to speaking about hope and justice. But right now I am too angry to go there. Right now I am terribly sad, extremely frustrated, and outraged. And I am ready to make demands that are shrill and unseemly for a pastor.

For our lives, for our kids, for our sanity, for the sanctity of all life, for Stanley Almodovar III and all the others dancing the night away when the shots were fired, let’s get serious, let’s get busy, let’s pass sane gun laws and save lives. Now.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at Her next column will appear in September. 



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