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Faith Communities to Remember Pulse Victims on One-Year Anniversary

In an effort to remember the lives lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting a year ago, faith communities across the U.S. are holding special memorial services.
Photos of Pulse Victims
Photos of the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting strung together into a banner sits on Fifth Avenue before the start of the 46th Annual Heritage of Pride March in New York City.Albin Lohr-Jones / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Monday marks one year since a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and took the lives of 49 people, while injuring dozens of others. In an effort to remember the lives lost at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, faith communities from across the country are holding memorial services on the one-year anniversary.

Historically, the LGBTQ and religious communities have had a contentious relationship, which is why many of the faith leaders participating say they chose to be involved in the day of remembrance.

Photos of the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting strung together into a banner sits on Fifth Avenue before the start of the 46th Annual Heritage of Pride March in New York City.Albin Lohr-Jones / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

“Faith communities have a poor track record when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion,” Rabbi Sharon Brous told NBC Out. “Righting that historic wrong has been a priority for our community from its inception.”

Brous co-founded and leads IKAR, a Jewish community in Los Angeles. Every year the community celebrates Pride Shabbat as part of their commitment to overcome the ills of the past. She believes, she said, that houses of worship should counter the discrimination and denigration the LGBTQ community has had to face.

“Celebrating Pride month in our synagogues, churches and mosques is one meaningful step in that direction,” she added.

Last year, their Pride Shabbat fell on the Friday following the shootings as Pulse. Being that many within their community were shaken by the shooting, it was only fitting that they address the tragedy and honor the victims and survivors as part of their prayer service. Before the Kaddish, a prayer recited by those in mourning, they paused and “one at a time, community members stood to read the name and age of each of the victims.”

“It was incredibly powerful,” she added.

This year, Pride Shabbat will be more intentional as they remember the Pulse victims, but will be no different from Shabbats in the past. According to Brous, they will once again mark a celebration of their LGBTQ community, speak about the Pulse shootings and recount the the ways in which LGBTQ folks are made to feel invisible and unsafe.

In Atlanta, St. Mark United Methodist Church will host a commemorative service sponsored by Faith in Public Life (FPL). Beth Larocca-Pitts, senior pastor of the congregation, said they were asked to host the event.

“We are rather unusual being that we are a Methodist church yet much of our congregation is made up of members of the LGBT community,” she told NBC Out.

In the United Methodist Church, homosexuality is considered incompatible with Christian teaching and clergy are forbidden to officiate same-sex marriages. However, Larocca-Pitts said she accepted the request from FPL gladly.

“Certainly a lot of our congregation were deeply affected by the Pulse shootings, being that a lot of our members are acquainted with the nightclub,” she said. “It was an extraordinarily horrific event, and we thought it fitting to check back in with people and see where folks are.”

Last year, following the shootings, Larocca-Pitts said her church allotted time for members to write personal messages to the victims. They then collected the messages and shipped them to Orlando.

Graham Younger, Georgia statewide coordinator for FPL, said the organization has partnered with Outcry: Interfaith Voices Against Gun Violence for this year's day of remembrance. In addition to the service at St. Mark, churches from across the state will ring their bells 49 times at noon in honor of the Pulse victims.

Remembrance, said Rev. Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava, is at the heart of her faith tradition. That is why she has chosen to participate in the FPL remembrance service. As an associate pastor at Virginia-Highland church in Atlanta, Rubalcava serves a congregation that has a significant number of LGBTQ and Latinx members.

“We are getting so accustomed to black brown, and LGBTQ bodies being treated as objects that we are getting quieter and quieter each time,” she told NBC Out. “It is important to remember this tragedy, because we need to speak up again until these events stop taking place.”

Rubalcava also warned against criminalizing the entire Muslim faith community because of the acts of the Orlando shooter, who was Muslim. She referenced the backlash the Muslim community experienced shortly after the tragedy.

“At the same time, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of legislation on gun control. This and many tragedies could have been avoided if we had stricter regulations on access to guns,” she added.

In Orlando, an interfaith service was held on June 6 as a means of not only bringing faith communities together, but to also engage through poetry, music and dialogue. The event was designed to honor the victims of the Pulse massacre, while also reflecting on the mistakes too often made by people of faith in dealing with LGBTQ people.

Navtej Singh Khalsa, a member of the Orlando Sikh community and a regional director of SALDEF, a national Sikh civil rights group, participated in the event. He said in in addition to the June 6 event, the Orlando Sikh community also intends to memorialize the 49 Pulse victims in a prayer service at a local gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, on Sunday, the day before the anniversary.

"This tragedy reflects the lack of tolerance and hatred of others. Efforts must be made in schools and society to teach and advocate tolerance and peaceful coexistence of all," Khalsa told NBC Out.

One year later, the faith community has a unique responsibility, said FPL's Graham Younger.

“The Pulse shooting was an event that touched so many different communities. The faith community is in a unique position to help people heal, and they take that responsibility seriously," he said.

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