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Making a difference one grant at a time

Peace with Justice Sunday time to commit

The murders of nine people attending a Wednesday night Bible study at AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, were a wake-up call to Vinings United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Looking outside their own doors convinced them they had to become actively involved in ministry to local crime victims. When they hosted a memorial/healing service in 2016, more than 250 people impacted by homicide attended.

Vinings Church applied for and received a grant from the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society to support the work of the Crime Victims Advocacy Council (CVAC), a ministry of the North Georgia Conference since 1989.

Each year on the first Sunday after Pentecost , thousands of United Methodist congregations worldwide collect a special offering for Peace with Justice Sunday. Created by the 1988 General Conference and one of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings, their gifts enable United Methodists to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice throughout the world.

The funds given let the Church and Society board award grants to churches and annual and central conferences advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of ministries and programs. Vinings offers one example of how a grant has made a difference in hundreds of lives.

"After the Charleston shooting," said the Rev. Kelly Van, Vinings pastor, "many people realized the need to minister to local crime victims as the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37) exhorted us to do." The church saw CVAC as an invaluable partner.

CVAC was founded by the Rev. Bruce Cook, a retired chaplain and author of Redeeming the Wounded, after a car crash involving alcohol put a young Vinings Church member in a coma. "After helping the family, church members realized they should start a ministry to help crime victims heal in the name of Jesus Christ." Since then, the ministry has grown to include a crisis line for crime victims and a Tuesday evening support group at the church for families in the community who have been impacted by a murder, DUI fatality or an attempted murder.

CVAC also assists United Methodists in understanding and responding to violence in a Christian healing service for crime victims and in moving people (i.e., crime victims) to reconciliation, transformation and redemption. The program develops leaders by encouraging crime victims to plan and operate the service and restores communities by caring for victims' suffering and pain in the annual healing service.

The Vinings church used its grant to help fund the 2016 memorial/healing service. Church members lead prayers with surviving family members. Cook, whose step-brother was murdered, lit one of the candles during the service.

"More than 250 family members impacted by homicide attended," said Cook. "The grant helped defray costs for program bulletins, candles and candle holders, a memorial wall listing the names of 300 murder victims, and booths containing information about crime victims' rights, legal help for civil justice and preparing victim claims.

"Peace with Justice funds are very important to small, grassroots nonprofits like CVAC that honor the command of Jesus to help the victimized neighbor. In the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus said to help the wounded crime victims and take them to the inn of healing. VUMC and CVAC's inn of healing is several things: the memorial service, individual and support group sessions, and our hotline assistance. We honor and obey Jesus' command to love our crime-victimized neighbor."

Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and freelance writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.

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