DOWNERS GROVE – The Rev. Scott Oberle wants to start a dialogue.
The pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove believes a genuine conversation among community members is a significant step in resolving the gun violence crisis the nation has been grappling with since the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Oberle has been involved in vigils following previous mass shootings, but the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School forced him to reconsider his church’s role in the gun violence discussion.
“I thought,‘I've got to do something more.’ What I thought I could do is bring people together in our community," Oberle said.
The first step toward that goal is a mental health workshop that will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 10 at the church, 1047 Curtiss St.
Hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the forum will examine the various psychological and mental causes associated with public shootings and other acts of violence, Oberle said.
“How are we caring for people on the margins?” he said.
The forum is free and open to the community. Attendees are asked to RSVP by calling the church at 630-968-0358.
The mental health workshop will be followed on March 18 by the Community Response to Mass Shooting Forum, which will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the church.
Oberle will moderate a panel discussion that will feature Community High School District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele, Downers Grove commissioner Bob Barnett and Downers Grove Police Chief Shanon Gillette.
Representatives from Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and other leaders from the Downers Grove faith community also are expected to participate in the panel. Oberle also hopes to include a student from both Downers Grove North and South high schools to participate in the discussion.
Oberle believes the discussion will offer a forum for individuals who want to express feelings about gun violence but do not have an outlet.
“We all have the concern,” he said. “Lots of people just don’t know what to do.”
Oberle does not want the forum to focus solely on the political debate associated with gun control and the Second Amendment. He also wants to explore the influences that have made society more violent, he said.
“Are we a violent people?” Oberle said.
He plans to pose a variety of questions to panel members that examine the impact of behavioral health on gun violence, the need for stricter gun control legislation and ways to better protect schools and students from gun violence.
The forum also will examine the ways media cover mass shootings and the impact television, movies and video games have on the level of violence in the United States, Oberle said.
Finally, he believes a face-to-face discussion will discourage the harsh attacks often found on social media.
"I think there's been so much labeling in this political age that we've been demonized," Oberle said.