In His Words: Marcus Arrington, Pastor, Parklawn Asembly of God
I know all too well the sting of gun violence. There was this specter that plagued a lot of young men my age when I was growing up. We didn’t believe that we would make it past the age of 21 or 22. I knew lots of guys – friends – who were killed violently. At 18, I had an encounter where I thought my life was over. I was robbed at gunpoint. I wasn’t very serious about church at the time, but I remember praying: Lord, please get me out of this situation and I will live for you. It really shook me up and helped me recognize the brevity of life.
I always knew I had a calling to preach, but I first really wanted to affect the lives of young men through education. I came back to Milwaukee [in the early 2000s] after finishing my undergraduate degree and worked as a teacher at North Division High School. By the time I became principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in 2014, I had already lost 38 students to gun violence. So many students walk around with heavy hearts. Others have a sense of invincibility. They don’t think, ‘This could be my last day.’ As an educator, my job was helping my students through that. I saw my students as my flock and my school as my pulpit. I always spoke with a sense of urgency because tomorrow is not promised.
I never thought I would be in education forever. I started as a youth pastor at the Spirit of Truth World Ministry in 2005, and I continued that work while I taught. A few years ago, after almost 18 years teaching, I felt there was a wider audience for words I was inspired to speak. I decided to leave education for full-time ministerial work and became the pastor at Parklawn Assembly of God in 2019.
At Parklawn, we have many members who have lost loved ones to gun violence. It is one thing for a person to pass, but when someone’s death involves guns, the thought that somebody had that much anger or hatred toward your loved one can be excoriating for families. It really rips at a person in a way that’s hard to describe. The cry of a mother is on a whole different level. I’ve officiated several funerals for members who died violently. It really becomes an art. You get more skillful, unfortunately, the more you do it. Listening skills are critical. Most people don’t want to talk about the incident. What you want to do instead is direct people’s attention to memories that bring a sense of peace and calmness to a very tumultuous situation.
Safety can be an issue at funerals. I led one funeral where [retaliatory violence] was a real concern. It was a young man who had died violently, and his death was high profile in the community. Before the funeral, we alerted our local police district, and they had one or two squads available as a deterrent. You can’t predict what will happen. There’s a funeral home a few blocks from our church where guns were fired at two separate funerals. People were shot.
It is a real threat.
As a pastor, I try to empower the young people in our church to make better choices. I also try to issue a charge to the adults to invest in young people. We all have to work toward solutions. I always think about a quote from the writer James Baldwin: “For these are all our children, we will all profit by or pay for what they become.” We’ve all got skin in the game.