|Vision: "It doesn't have to be this way"
Heeding God’s Call has never been busier since the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary, an atrocity that demands that we seek ever more creative, effective ways to combat gun violence and preserve life. Our vigils in front of gun shops are faithfully continuing, in wind and rain and snow and heat. Murder Site Witnesses bring people together across the lines that usually divide, as we stand with traumatized communities, and pray in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish. Our gatherings on Good Friday and the World Day of Prayer for Peace call attention to the tragic loss of life by guns in our cities. All of these public acts bring gun violence out of the shadows and back pages of our papers in front of people. Our unrelenting witness brings humanity to impersonal statistics. Each of these empty tee shirts on the lawn of a church represents a real person, a human being who should still be alive.
One thing we say a lot is “it doesn’t have to be this way.” As people of faith, we believe in the possibility of change. We also know that the real change needed goes deeper than just passing laws (as important as those are.) The transformation we work for is cultural and, yes, spiritual. We want people to recognize victims as fellow citizens for whom we have responsibility. We want people to see that guns are not the answer to problems or the road to peace. We want people to know that the gun lobby is not all-powerful and that the high levels of gun violence are not inevitable. When we accept the unacceptable, we have lost our soul.
There are some signs of change: even though the press reports record gun sales since December, we also know that the numbers of households with guns is going down. The city of Philadelphia has lost 40 of our sons and daughters to gun violence so far this year—but this time last year, 70 had been murdered. There are many reasons for this, but I know that in ways we don’t always see or understand, our message is getting through. We are challenging the entrenched “gun culture,” and lives will be saved. As you stand in front of a gun shop for the umpteenth time, wondering if you’re having any effect, take heart! Every honk from a passing car is an “Amen!” as we “pray with our feet.”
-- The Rev. Dr. Katie Day
Chair of the Board of Heeding God's Call
From the Field
Harrisburg: "Something must change"
The Harrisburg Chapter continues to operate on the premise that “Something Must Change”. With that in mind, the first Chapter Retreat was held on February 11, 2013 to review and explore ways to more effectively accomplish our goals in the prevention of illegal handgun violence.
We were fortunate to have executive director Bryan Miller present in addition to newly appointed board chair, the Rev Katie Day, and administrator Susan Windle.
We engaged in a lively discussion about the degree to which we wish to engage in the political aspects of prevention. There was an expressed desire to consider strengthening our connections with organizations such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Cease Fire PA while at the same time maintaining our unique faith perspective.
The conversation focused on the difference between “alignment” and “endorsement.” We agreed we wish to advocate in ways that do not give us the appearance of being partisan. The Chapter will send recommendations to the National Board requesting the board consider some of these issues and adopt a strategy that can be supported and adapted by all chapters.
The two-pronged focus of Public Witness Prayer Vigils at the sites of murders involving guns and the Gun shop Campaign to persuade gun sellers to agree to the Code of Conduct will be expanded. We will develop activities designed to share more broadly the impact of illegal guns in our communities. Methods of accomplishing this goal are still under consideration.
On a sad and tragic note, through March 9, there have been four homicides in Harrisburg involving the use of a gun. We continue to show support to the families and the communities where these senseless acts of violence occur. Through our presence at these Prayer Vigils, we hope to reinforce our resolve to stand together and affirm that “Something Must Change”.
--Pastor Belita D. Mitchell
Coordinating Committee Chair, Harrisburg Chapter
In January, 2013, Neighborhood Partners to End Gun violence constructed and installed a visual memorial to the 288 slain by gunfire in Philadelphia in 2012 (out of a total of 331 homicides for the year): a plain tee-shirt mounted on a t-shaped holding device and stuck into the ground, each shirt with the name, age, and date of death of one of the victims. This memorial was exhibited in the front yard of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in the northwest section of Philadelphia and remained in place for close to three weeks. It drew considerable attention both from the news media and from folks driving along the busy Germantown Avenue fronting the church.
It has since been taken down, stored for a short time and repaired (winter winds, rain, and snow took their toll), and moved to another church in the area. It will be re-installed on the Saturday before Palm Sunday in Vernon Park in Germantown, also in Northwest Philadelphia and also along Germantown Avenue. Once again, the “hosting” congregation or in this case congregations will conclude their Sunday services by going out to the site of the memorial and holding a brief service of prayer, song, reading of names of victims, silence, and re-dedication to ending gun violence. Other faith communities will host and display the memorial in the coming months.
Co-Coordinator, Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence
The Greater Washington Chapter has been active since June, 2011, and is in the midst of expanding its membership; in particular, we are looking for places of worship or committees within, which will join us and share in our actions and activities.
For nearly two years, members of the Greater Washington chapter have participated in public actions at Realco Guns, 6108 Marlboro Pike, District Heights, MD 20747, to influence the owner to adopt and enforce the 10-point Code for Responsible Gun Retailers in the hope of eliminating crime guns traced back to his store. We continue our weekly vigils at Realco on Monday afternoons and welcome new participants at any time without “reservations.” The vigils will continue to be held from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. until Daylight Savings Time begins on March 10, at which time we will follow the sun (5:00 – 6:00 p.m.).
Selected places of worship in the District Heights/Forestville area have been mailed packets of information on HGC, and three dedicated members of the GW chapter are now in the process of following up with phone calls in an effort to personally connect with Realco’s faith-based neighbors.
Members of the Steering Committee of the GW chapter are involved in meeting with representatives of community and faith-based organizations in the Washington Metropolitan area to share information and activities. Furthermore, visits have been made by members to Sunday School classes and other church meetings to spread the word.
The Steering Committee is also in the process of eliciting support from places of worship, committees/groups within, and/or faith-based organizations as we increase our pressure upon Realco Guns to sign the Code. Following the example set by our brothers and sisters in Philadelphia, the Greater Washington chapter will spearhead a post card campaign during the month of March. Folks will be asked to sign and mail out a post card with a message to Mr. Carlos del Real, which personally asks him to do the right thing and adopt the Code. So far we have firm commitment from six churches or organizations.
If you or your place of worship or organization wishes to participate as well, please contact HGCGW Secretary Gail Golden at email@example.com. Wouldn’t we just love to see Mr. del Real overwhelmed by the mail which shows the support that he may have thought was represented by only 10 – 15 people on Monday afternoons? Post cards will be made available free of charge to participants; help with the cost of postage is available through HGCGW. Personal return addresses and e-mails are not included on the postcards.
Chair of the Greater Washington Chapter, retired Presbyterian minister, Reverend James Atwood, has recently published his book called, America and Its Guns. He is offering a six-week adult class for local churches on the guns and their involvement in violence during the history of our country. He can be contacted through the email address below.
Heeding God’s Call is featured in a film produced by David Barnhart called TRIGGER: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, which shares the story of how gun violence impacts individuals and communities, examining the effect that one shooting has on a survivor, a family, a community, and a society. Copies of this important film may be purchased from the Presbyterian Distribution Services at 1-800-524-2612 for a total of $10.25, which includes shipping.
Join us and receive our emails as we update folks on the activities of HGC and the Greater Washington chapter by emailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secretary, Greater Washington Chapter
Book Review: America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, James E. Atwood and Walter Bruggeman. Amazon (2012)
Anyone could read this book with profit - and pain. The data and the stories of all sorts of people touched by gun violence guns are there in abundance. But the author especially speaks to those who are conscious of a spiritual dimension of life that is their bridge to culture, law and politics. America and its Guns is particularly for those with a religious faith who refuse to be pigeon-holed by a narrow reading of the Bible or intimidated by demands that churches keep their heads down and avoid controversy. One can’t read this book without feeling anger and seeing that something needs to be done about a gun culture gone amok. And there are concrete suggestions about where to begin.
--Rev. Walter Owensby
Presbyterian Church (USA) minister
Why I Stand at the Gun Shop
There’s something about a doorway that’s holy.
Everyone knows that.
Something about the threshold wants
each passing-through to be honest,
every transaction true.
Something wants us to linger at the entrance,
touch the frame toward the lintel,
and wonder what goes on here
and is it holy? Holy as the frame itself?
Does it return life to life’s maker
There are many doorways, many openings,
apertures through which
the dishonorable streams.
Blood flows from countless wounds.
I cannot pray by every hurt.
But I can stand at this one and I can trust
this one door stands for all:
all love, all healing, all health,
one holy body.
for the Vigil at Delia’s Gun Shop
Good Friday/Passover 2011
© 2011 by Susan Windle
"Memorial to the Lost" Tee Shirt Exhibit Installation and Dedication
Saturday, March 23 (rain date March 24), Installation: 1:00 p.m.; Dedication: 2:00 p.m.
Vernon Park in Germantown
5818 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia
This is the second installation of the exhibit first installed in January on the lawn of Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. This new installation is jointly sponsored by the Germantown Mennonite Church, First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, First United Methodist Church of Germantown, and Heeding God's Call.
La Santa Convocacion/ The Great Prayer Assembly
Saturday, March 30, 9:30am-3pm
Hispanic United Methodist Churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference
with participation of Bishop Peggy Johnson
St. Philip's United Methodist Church
700 East Tioga Street, Philadelphia
Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Forum
Sunday, April 14, 11:15 a.m.
Rev Jim Atwood, retired Presbyterian pastor, author of 'America and Its Guns: A Theological Perspective,' long-time (30 years) activist for gun violence prevention and Board Member of Heeding God's Call will speak to the Adult Education Forum at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church
Ellington Easter Interfaith Vespers
Saturday, April 20, 7:30 p.m.
The Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel of The Lutheran Theological Seminary
7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119
Free will offering will raise funds for: LTSP Master of Arts in Public Leadership program, Heeding God’s Call, CeaseFirePA