About two dozen people gathered Sunday at United Church of Rockville Centre to sing and pray for the 49 people shot to death at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I’ve cried and grieved for people who I never knew,” the Rev. Scott A. Ressman said during the sermon. “Because we shared in being part of the LGBTQ community. I am one of their tribe.”
The name and age of each of the 49 shooting victims was read aloud as 49 candles were lighted in memory of the lives lost.
Megan Asuncion, 47, of Baldwin said it was important to her to attend the special service honoring the victims who police say were killed when 29-year-old Omar Mateen shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“I thought it was very moving and very important,” she said of the service. “As a human being, and a Christian and a social worker, what happened in Orlando was more than tragic. I’m praying that more people will be more accepting.”
Dana Zingale, 51, of Baldwin is an usher and volunteer at United Church of Rockville Centre. She said she was raising her three children in the church because it was important to her that they learn to be accepting of others, regardless of sexual identity.
“God’s love is for everyone,” she said.
Ressman told the congregation that Christians must “hold the Church — with a capital ‘C’ — accountable” for the spread of hatred toward people in the LGBT community across the country.
After the service, Ressman said he was speaking about Christianity as a whole, rather than a specific denomination.
“I think in all faiths, we have to take a look at the rhetoric that we’ve put out there for so long,” he said. “Especially about the gay community. We say, ‘We love you because you’re a child of God, but we don’t think you were created this way.’ Why would anyone go to a church where they were told they were not made in the image of God?”
Ressman called on the congregation to take responsibility for their own actions and condemned hateful rhetoric.
“When someone makes a gay joke, do you shut up or do you stand up?” he asked. “Your responsibility is to stand up for what you believe.”