FLINT, Michigan — This Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint will center on a hot-button topic in today’s public discourse: gun violence in America.
The service is titled, “Motive Unknown: Looking for Solutions to Gun Violence,” and will feature a sermon by Rev. Jerry Kerr as well as a candlelight memorial in honor of the 40,000 Americans who die by gun violence each year.
The topic is certainly on the minds of many Michiganders, following the mass shootings at Oxford High School in November of 2021 and at Michigan State University just last month. And on Wednesday of this week, March 22, a shooting in Flint
claimed the sixth life lost to gun violence in the city this year.
Although often framed as a political issue, the issue is extremely personal to Kerr whose early life experiences have shaped his perspective on guns.
Kerr grew up in rural Ohio where gun culture was a part of life. Guns were kept in his home, and the family often spent time together enjoying hunting and working on their marksmanship.
Then when Kerr was in high school, his twin brother died by firearm suicide. During the memorial on Sunday, he will be honoring his brother along with the many thousands of others who have died by firearm.
Rev. Jerry Kerr.
Kerr believes that a key to finding solutions to gun violence lies in an exploration of the deep-rooted feelings many of us have about guns.
“I've come to realize they have just an amazing fascination for all of us, or at least for a lot of us,” he said. Kerr is still a gun owner to this day.
“In my own circles, people have expressed astonishment that I, a Unitarian Universalist minister, would have guns,” he said.
Despite the strong emotions many feel surrounding the topic, Kerr hopes the sermon will allow for a thoughtful, nonjudgmental discussion.
“[I’m] very mindful of the fact that we may have guests with different ideas about the need for new gun legislation,” he said.
Kerr explained that while folks on both sides of the issue can often sound firm in their convictions, he finds that most people agree that something needs to change.
He hopes that the sermon will inspire people on both sides of the issue to come together and brainstorm solutions, though he acknowledges that some may see that as hopelessly idealistic. “But it doesn't cost me anything, you know, to be a little bit idealistic,” he added.
Kerr feels confident that Sunday’s sermon will unfold thoughtfully and respectfully, due in part to the acknowledgment that many of the congregation share the view that gun reform is needed.
“Everyone in our congregation is sort of committed to talking about this, as uncomfortable as it may be,” he said.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint is located at 2474 S. Ballenger Hwy in Flint.
He is not the only member of the church who has been impacted by gun violence. “We have two other members of the congregation who lost a family member through suicide with a gun,” Kerr said.
Just last week, more than a dozen of the church’s congregants attended a rally in Lansing organized by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who nearly lost her life after being shot in the brain during a 2011 mass shooting.
Kerr recognizes that even among those who agree that gun reform is necessary, there are differing opinions on what that should look like. But at the end of the day, he is committed to continuing the discussion in hopes of preventing gun deaths in the future.
“I think just about anyone will look at the 10 candles, each representing 4,000 people, and get a sense of, ‘We’ve got to figure something out,’” said Kerr.
The service takes place on Sunday, March 26 at 10:30 a.m. at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Flint located at 2474 S. Ballenger Hwy.
This article is part of the People-Centered Oversight Series, which aims to elevate the issues most affecting the Flint community. The series was created in partnership with Flint Beat and made possible by support from The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
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