ORLANDO — The bell tolled. It tolled and tolled and tolled.
The only other sounds in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church of Orlando on Tuesday night were muffled tears as photos of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims were placed on boards along the altar.
“We mourn those vibrant young lives, full of joy and promise, cut short and extinguished in one violent act fueled by anger and ignorance,” said Claudia Schippert, abbot of the Orlando Zen Center. “We mourn the loss of life and we hope queer love and all love can transcend the hell that hatred can produce.”
She was one of many speakers at a well-attended interfaith service of prayer and compassion at the downtown church across the street from the arts center where thousands had gathered the night before for a community vigil. The evening featured a Muslim prayer for peace, Buddhist and Sikh chant, Baha’i, Unitarian and Hindu prayers, Jewish musical meditation, Christian hymns and Humanist greetings.
“All of us here, religious and nonreligious, we have the same questions,” said David Williamson of the Central Florida Freethought Community. “We’re looking for comfort.”
Hannah Willard of Equality Florida, like many of the evening’s speakers, struck notes of sorrow and hope.
“This is a safe space,” she said. “For some of us in the LGBTQ community, Pulse was a safe space, where folks felt like they could be their authentic selves. It’s important we have spaces where everyone can be celebrated and valued for who they are.”
She said the tragedy should be a call to action.
“We can’t ignore that this hatred is alive and well and thriving,” she said. “Our community has shown that we are committed to uprooting hatred, be it homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism. What are the next steps? Teach our children to treat each other with dignity and respect, to treat those with whom they have differences with compassion and empathy. We know love will win.”
While the evening was somber, it was not without levity. Rabbi Rick Sherwin saluted those who donated blood immediately after the shootings.
“The lines to give blood were longer than the lines at Universal, Disney and Sea World. Yay for us,” he said, drawing a laugh and round of applause.
The Rev. Bob Bushong, superintendent of the East Central District of the United Methodist Church’s Florida Conference, stressed that although the massacre took place at a gay nightclub, its horrors aren’t limited to any group.
“In the end, it is not only about gay and lesbian people,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, it is about all of us. Any crime of violence against a targeted and persecuted group of people is a crime against all of humanity.”
He ended on a determined note: “We can’t let hate win. We can’t let darkness win.”