Orient church, community grieve Orlando shooting victims


Nearly 50 community members gathered on the front lawn of the Orient Congregational Church and lit candles as 49 church bells rang out Tuesday evening. 

The Rev. Ann Van Cleef played the flute while standing in front of a table with a rainbow flag draped over it and 49 candles lit atop it.

The number was symbolic of the men and women who died early Sunday morning during the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. In addition to the deceased, 53 people were injured during what is now considered the worst mass shooting in American history.

Many of the victims were members of the LGBT and Latin communities, as it was the club’s popular themed Latin night on Saturday.

Although the incident occurred over 1,000 miles away, it didn’t stop Greenport and Orient residents from feeling the pain and wanting to lend support.

“I think when you see it on TV and you hurt for all these people and you hurt inside, its just nice to be with likeminded folks who are hurting the same way, even though we don’t know them,” said Barbara Davidson of Greenport.

“We don’t know them, but we’re hurting for them and their families,” she added.

The approximately 50 people in attendance Tuesday afternoon were each given a rainbow ribbon to wear and a program with songs and prayers about hope and peace written throughout.

Community members sing along to "Let There Be Peace on Earth" during Tuesday's gathering at the Orient Congregational Church on Tuesday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)
Community members sing along to “Let There Be Peace on Earth” during Tuesday’s gathering at the Orient Congregational Church. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Toward the end of the ceremony, those in attendance were invited to speak about Sunday’s events. Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport spoke to the darkness inside of Omar Mateen — the 29-year-old gunman who died in a shootout with police — that led him to commit such a crime.

Multiple reports say Mr. Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS and practiced the Islamic faith, but also made trips to Pulse prior to the massacre where he sometimes made advances on men, according to New York Times articles.

“It seemed like to me there was some crossroad between sexual orientation and religious pressure, I’m not sure,” Rabbi Capela said. “But if that’s the case, I’m familiar with that intersection. And it could lead you to a very dark place. And I think what we have to do as clergy … our job is to make sure that when we meet people who live in the dark, to try to give them hope.”

The Rev. Van Cleef said offering residents a place to gather and react to Sunday’s events was important, especially since it greatly affected the LGBT community. Additionally, the Orient Congregational Church was the first church east of Riverhead to become an open and affirming church, she said.

Beth Allen, a Greenport resident and member of the LGBT community, said the support she’s received from her neighbors has been so important to her since she moved here in the late 1970s. It was that feeling of support and caring that brought her to the church on Tuesday.

Greenport resident Adrianne Greenberg said that when she initially heard the news she just wanted to “be with people,” so she was grateful for the opportunity to grieve as a community.

“It’s important for people to get together and talk,” The Rev. Van Cleef said. “Not that there will ever be closure, there is never closure because we’re always changed, but at least people can come together to grieve.”

A vigil will be held Monday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Silversmith’s Corner to remember the victim’s of Sunday’s massacre. Additionally, this Saturday, June 18, Cutchogue health studio JABS will hold a 45-minute “Pulse for Pulse” workout class at 9:15 a.m.

Photo Caption: The Rev. Ann Van Cleef reads a prayer during a ceremony in remembrance of the victims of the Orlando shooting on Tuesday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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