|Vision: "Peace is Possible"
Last Saturday, May 10, the Heeding God’s Call banner was leading the way in a Pre-Mother’s Day March organized by our good friends in Bux-Mont Peace Coalition and PA 7 for Sensible Gun Laws. After an inspiring service at a church in Trenton, we marched, 250 strong, over the bridge into Morrisville, PA. As we came into the stage in the park we were met by a crowd of loud, gun-toting protesters who angrily shouted back at the speakers, who included Ed Rendell and our own Movita Johnson, who gave a powerful presentation. There was a sea of signs among the umbrellas, mostly with our group, but others like “Mothers Want AK-47s!” (When I spoke, a counter demonstrator in the front held a sign, “Red reverend put kids last”—wrong on so many levels!).
There were a number of things that were remarkable about this event. First of all, the message from all of the participating organizations was clear—we were pushing for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, a limitation on magazine capacity, and doing more to prevent and punish straw purchasing. As the rain poured down, our resolve was clear: we aren’t going away. We’re not going to be silent. We would not be intimidated by a noisy minority that would do everything it could to ensure guns are accessible to whoever wants them. Too many suffer too much. As people of faith we know that this is not what the Creator intends and change is possible. It doesn’t have to be this way.
At the end of the rally, Rev. Bob Moore called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of gun violence. I was skeptical, but miraculously there was total silence for a full minute. It was a silence that held the hope that indeed we all share suffering and peace is possible.
The march was but the latest event in what has been a busy spring for Heeding. As you will read in this newsletter, our vigils at gun shops have continued and we have held Murder Site Witnesses in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The tee-shirt memorial has traveled to three locations so far in the Philadelphia area and continues to be a compelling public memorial. Fundraising is picking up and has included two benefit jazz concerts. In the last two months, two new local networks of congregations have formed—in the Chester/Delaware County area and in Ambler/Wissahickon. Through a generous grant from the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, we will be hiring a part-time organizer in the Philadelphia region. Heeding continues to grow as communities of faith want to step up, speak out, and stop the scourge of gun violence.
The Board is working hard to make sure our organizational structure keeps pace with the demand. At our last meeting we decided to pursue having congregational memberships, so that communities of faith are “officially” linked into the organization. That will strengthen both Heeding and the congregations as they can access the organization as a resource for them. This will be more formally launched in coming months, so stay tuned.
We also decided to expand our strategy beyond public witnesses and education to include legislative advocacy and local efforts in support of victims. This was implemented immediately as we spoke out on the Manchin-Toomey compromise bill and advocated for truly universal, rather than just expanded, background checks.
This has been an exciting period for Heeding. I am grateful for the many smart, committed volunteers who are taking the lead in all the activities I’ve listed. Our staff, Bryan Miller (Executive Director) and Susan Windle (Administrator), do wonderful work in the myriad tasks that keep us functioning and growing. I give thanks to God, who weaves us together from our different traditions and contexts and gives us hope and energy for this work every day. The Spirit was not in the whirlwind but spoke in that silence on Saturday of real hope that peace will prevail over violence.
-- The Rev. Dr. Katie Day
Chair of the Board of Heeding God's Call
Former PA Governor Ed Rendell, CeaseFire PA's Shira Goodman, and Heeding God's Call's Yancy Sherman Harrell at the Morrisville-Trenton rally
Late Breaking News
The Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church Jazz Fest for Peace raised $25,000 for the work of Heeding God's Call! Thanks to all who helped to make this happen. Look for a fuller report in the next issue of The Call.
From the Field
The Harrisburg Chapter continues to hold Prayer Vigils in the wake of homicides resulting from the use of guns. As I write this article, we are preparing for a Vigil on Tuesday, May 14,2013. Harrisburg’s eighth homicide occurred allegedly in the early hours of Wednesday morning; however, the body was not discovered until Thursday. The circumstances around the loss of life of the 27-year-old victim are doubly sad because Harrisburg police apparently failed to respond to initial reports of gunshots. There was another Prayer Vigil held earlier this month in memory of 27-year-old Tyrell Vaughan who was killed on April 28, 2013. Approximately eighty persons were present, including relatives of Tyrell.
The Harrisburg Chapter will meet later this month with an aggressive agenda to plan for a Community Call to Action in the coming months and hear follow up to the National Board Meeting that occurred in April. We will take action at this meeting regarding an expanded strategy for addressing the senseless loss of life. More information will be available as the Chapter makes these critical decisions.
It is our desire to join with other community faith partners and civic groups who are also committed to the prevention and elimination of illegal gun violence. We are considering ways in which we can keep the mission of our cause highlighted in the community. We are cooperating with Cease Fire PA to get the word out about pending legislation and encouraging citizens to become more actively involved.
--Pastor Belita D. Mitchell
Coordinating Committee Chair, Harrisburg Chapter
Students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr joined Heeding God’s Call and West Philadelphia neighbors in a Murder Site Public Witness, mourning the death of murder victim Jennifer Fitzpatrick, 34 year old mother of four shot on the block where she lived.
Continuing in their “Alternative Spring Break,” later in the week, the students stood with NPEG regulars in our vigil outside Delia’s Gun Store.
After participating in the vigil outside the gun store, three students offered owner Fred Delia cookies. He spoke with them for half an hour.
Early this spring Heeding God’s Call collaborated once again with the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia to offer students a different kind of spring break. Last year the experience was so enriching for all concerned that both organizations chose to do it again, in what we hope to be an annual experience. The Interfaith Center traditionally offers a week-long opportunity for students of various religious backgrounds to use their spring break to explore spiritual traditions within the context of a nurturing group experience. The week with Heeding God’s Call differs from the other “Breaks” in that the program of our week holds a focus on social witness and advocacy. Heeding God’s Call offers the students a living example of faith-in-action and invites them to participate with us in our actions and witnesses throughout the week.
This year Heeding Director Bryan Miller, along with NPEG co-chairs Susan Windle and Bob Fles, engaged throughout the week with seven students and their leaders from Philadelphia area sister and brother colleges Bryn Mawr and Haverford. For such a small group the religious backgrounds of the group were exceedingly diverse— including Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu, as well as various combinations from parental mixes. Most came with little knowledge of inner city gun violence and no experience of faith-informing social actions.
We began on Saturday with an education piece, introducing them to the issue of illegal guns and to our history as an organization with its beginnings in civil disobedience, with plenty of time for questions and discussion. The week continued with a Sunday afternoon Murder Site Witness (see picture) organized by Heeding and then our regular vigil at the gun store vigil on Tuesday afternoon at Delia’s Gun Store. Thursday evening, nearing the end of the students’ time together, we held a round table debriefing and discussion (with pizza!) hosted by one of our partner congregations, The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill and involving PCCH pastor Cindy Jarvis, who offered reflections on her role as advocate from the pulpit. The students were both challenged and deeply moved by their experiences at the murder site and the gun shop. And we were certainly moved by them—their willingness to be open to these experiences and the questions they asked of us…giving us the opportunity to reflect on what we are doing and why.
We closed our evening and our week together with a circle of gratitude, each of us offering a word or phrase of thanks for the experiences we had together over the week; Faith, Justice, Hope, Curiosity Connection, Power…more than words, but reflections of deeply embodied experience. What a gift to us these students were!
The following week Heeding collaborated in a smaller way with the Interfaith Center, inviting students from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to stand with us at gun shops as one piece of their week. After an orientation by Heeding Director Bryan Miller, 20 students came by bus to Delia’s and to Mike and Kate’s Sport Shoppe. Read Interfaith Center leader Josh Blakeley’s blog for more on that from his perspective.
Co-Coordinator, Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence
As my wife, Roxana and I, take another step in our retirement years, by moving to Sunnyside, a Presbyterian retirement community in Harrisonburg, VA., I want to express my gratitude to Bryan Miller and Katie Day who have been so instrumental in putting me on the path of working for Heeding God’s Call. It has been my joy and privilege to serve as Chair of the Greater Washington Area for these last two years and to be out in front of Realco Guns Monday afternoons to let my faith speak through my feet.
No, it’s not always comfortable to get off my butt and get out there, but I know that’s where I belong and I am only “Heeding God’s Call” to stop America’s crazy gun violence. I am so often reminded of that woman in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s, who when asked after a long march, if she were tired, replied, “My feets is tired but my spirit soars.”
I was asked recently what I was going to do about gun violence at Sunnyside. For several reasons I don’t intend to stop working on the issue even though it is too far to commute weekly to the D.C. area for demonstrations, but there are other things I can do. I am as convinced today as I was in 1975 that gun violence is America’s greatest spiritual problem; I’ve got to use the office we have in our new home. It’s Sunnyside, not Sunset!
Following the publication of my book, America and Its Guns: a Theological Expose, in June of 2012, I have had numerous invitations from individual churches, faith groups, forums, seminaries and universities to speak and/or preach on the issue. The latest were from faith-based communities in Houston, Cleveland, and Kansas City. These have convinced me that God wants me to devote my energies toward 1) educating the faith community on why and how we have become a violent gun-culture and 2) energizing us to do something about it by using our incredible moral, ethical, and spiritual resources to unmask and dethrone the Gun Empire. I don’t know where this is going to lead, but that will be my direction.
In the meantime, May God bless us everyone; let’s keep in touch and join forces wherever we can, and remember Bryan Miller’s prophetic words, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”
During the months of March and April, 2013, the Greater Washington chapter of Heeding God’s Call participated in a postcard campaign in which over 15 places of worships and faith-based organizations sent out nearly 700 post cards to Carlos del Real, proprietor of Realco Guns in District Heights, MD, encouraging him to sign The Code and act as a responsible gun retailer. In particular, in Realco’s case, we are asking that he work toward reducing the number of straw buyers associated with his shop.
The chapter is in the planning stages for a program of peace scheduled tentatively for the United Nations International Day of Peace on September 21. For the first time in our history, the GW chapter will be working in partnership with a place of worship to make this program happen. Reverend Bernice Parker-Jones and her congregation from Faith Presbyterian Church will be meeting soon to form a planning committee for this event.
Another first occurred at the public witness at Realco Guns on Monday, April 29, when several Imams and other Muslims joined in the demo with other members and supporters of HGCGW to reduce gun violence. We hope that their presence and participation will continue in the months to come.
Thanks to the dedication of Bob Cooke and Reggie Grier to the cause of peace, members of local Catholic churches and Pax Christi organizations, for arranging for the representation of HGC at the recent Archdiocese of Washington Social Ministry and Life Issues Annual Conference at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, MD, on April 27. In addition to Bob and Reggie, Jim Atwood and Bryan Miller joined in to the presentations. It is our hope that this opens doors to increase the Catholic presence in the membership of HGC of Greater Washington.
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. Thanks to the numerous churches in the Greater Washington area for showing this film and for providing for the viewers time to speak with victims and advocates in the film as well as local and state legislators.
Chair of the Greater Washington Chapter, retired Presbyterian minister, Reverend James Atwood, has recently published his book called, America and Its Guns. He is also making available a study guide for six sessions of instruction using the book as a basis.
On April 28, 2013, Jim Atwood organizer and head of the Greater Washington chapter of HGC, informed the Steering Committee that he and his wife Roxanna will be moving out of the area to be closer to family in July, 2013. At a Committee meeting on May 6, Jim announced his plans to the members and supporters of the activities of the GW chapter. At this point, Jim is working with the Steering Committee to assure a smooth transition. Lisa Delity has unselfishly accepted the role of chair of the Greater Washington chapter with the expectation that a co-chair may be named in the Fall.
Secretary, Greater Washington Chapter
A Muslim group joined the vigil at Realco Guns for the first time in May 2013.
Southeast Pennsylvania Good Friday Rally and Call to Action
On Good Friday, March 29, 2013 a group of people from different economic, religious and geographic backgrounds gathered after the traditional commemoration of Jesus Christ’s arduous journey to Calvary where an innocent Savior was nailed to a cross and hung there until He died. The death of an innocent person, the shedding of innocent blood, and the taking of blood money are all repeated symbols in today’s world in the fight against gun violence.
In Philadelphia in 2012 there was the fatal shedding of innocent blood by gunfire of 288 men, women, boys and girls. Many were killed because straw purchasers made it possible for people who could not get guns on their own to gain access to guns for a profit. The straw purchaser’s profit is “blood money.” This connection between the innocent blood of Jesus Christ and the innocent blood of 288 Philadelphians, 26 children and adults in Newtown, others in Tucson, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and 30,000 nationwide motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims to gather to protest the proliferation of illegal guns, straw purchasers, and gun dealers who refuse to sign the Code of Conduct, an ethical statement regarding the transfer of fire arms and ammunition.
The slaughter of 20 children and six adults in Newtown led Philadelphians in Heeding God’s Call to gather at a church and then a school. The protest started at St. Paul’s Baptist Church at 10th & Wallace Streets where the Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan serves as senior pastor. The program began with music by the Sanctuary Choir at St. Paul’s along with a greeting from Pastor Callahan. Rev. J. Fred Kauffman shared a statistical power point presentation to further establish the reason for gathering. After that Dr. Dolores E. Lee McCabe, Chair of the Philadelphia Coordinating Committee for Heeding God’s Call, shared a scripture concerning the weeping women. When Jesus saw them, He told them not to weep for Him, but to weep for themselves and the generation to come. Jesus was pointing to our generation who would take the lives of innocent people with very little remorse.
Then Dr. Katie Day, Chair of Heeding God’s Call and Professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, gave the group its marching orders, and with a police escort the group headed for Benjamin Franklin High School on Broad Street near Spring Garden Street. Bob Fles, planning committee member, and Gibbs LaMotte, Co-chair of the Good Friday event, orchestrated the march and directed marchers.
At Ben Franklin, Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Rev. Linda Noonan, and Pastor Callahan shared words to encourage the group to continue to fight the battle of our age, a battle against gun violence.
Two couples who each lost a son and other relatives to gun violence, Cheryl and Joel Seay and Movita and Yancy Johnson-Harell, shared vivid stories about the death of their sons. One couple is Christian and the other couple is Muslim. They put their religious differences aside to stand together against the horror of gun violence that denied their sons careers, marriages, children, grandchildren, and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Jan Thornton slowly rang the gong, the audience held small crosses aloft with the names of each of the 288 who were killed by guns in Philadelphia in 2012. The choir from Tabernacle United Church and a soloist from St. Paul’s provided music that served to memorialize the deceased, to comfort the bereaved, and to challenge a city and a nation to enact laws and act persistently to end this senseless gun violence.
--Rev. Dr. Dolores E. Lee McCabe
Memorial to the Slain
Heeding God's Call Executive Committee
As reported previously, a tee-shirt memorial—288 tee-shirts mounted on holders placed in the ground, each shirt bearing the name, age, and date of death of a Philadelphia murdered by illegal guns in 2012—was created and placed in the lawn of a church in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia this past January. It remained there for three weeks and drew a good deal of attention both locally and nationally. Since then, the memorial has moved to Vernon Park, a block-long park in Germantown, also in northwest Philadelphia but in the midst of an area directly suffering from extensive gun violence. Remarks about the memorial and its meaning to the neighborhood by Reverend Nancy Muth, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, adjacent to the Vernon Park, follow this report.
Multiplying Chapters: Is Heeding God’s Call growing?
From Vernon Park the memorial has traveled to the lawn of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in a Main Line community outside of Philadelphia. Currently scheduled stops after Bryn Mawr include a school in Juniata Park, which is a troubled, often violent Philadelphia neighborhood, the Episcopalian Cathedral in West Philadelphia, and St. Martin in the Field Episcopal Church back in Chestnut Hill—a continuation of appearances of the memorial in widely varying locales. The St. Martin’s church is pastored by Reverend Jarrett Kerbel, who conceived of the tee-shirt memorial and has helped with the logistics of erecting, dismantling, and transporting it from stop to stop.
Here are Reverend Muth’s comments that she wrote shortly after the memorial was taken down from Vernon Park for transport to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian:
"I just got back from helping to take down the Tee Shirt Memorial in Vernon Park. Germantown so loved the display. People were great coming up to us thanking us for the display, asking why were taking it down, saying how meaningful it was. Someone had two small signs made that they put by our signs reading, "It doesn't have to be like this." Another person came by and was so disappointed. He told me he is a videographer and wanted to take some footage of the display. I told him about Bryn Mawr. The best was three young boys on bicycles, maybe 12 years old. One of them kept looking at the display as he asked, "Why are you taking it down?" We explained it was going to be re-erected somewhere else for a few weeks and then it would keep moving around the city. Even to a school. "It's going to schools?" he asked. Then he told me that there were flowers on one of them and it was the shirt representing his sister's father. I told him that we saw that and we left the flowers with the shirt and it will travel to the different sites like that."
Photos by Olivia Jane Winters for NewsWorks are online here.
In recent months the number of chapters in the Philadelphia area has grown from two to six, expanding the total number of chapters in Heeding to eight. In a recent interview Bryan Miller, Executive Director, recounted the recent formation of four new chapters, collectively a combination of faith communities from Philadelphia and from nearby suburbs and towns:
West/Southwest Philly: following a murder-site witness last September that gathered at a park and marched to a grocery store where a young man from outside the area was gunned down as he waited on the sidewalk for his cousin, six to eight faith communities have banded together to form this chapter.
Metro West: for over a year a number of churches and synagogues from the Main Line, communities west of Philadelphia, have been meeting to form a new chapter and develop a plan of action.
Heeding Montco: after a presentation about gun violence by Bryan Miller at an Episcopalian church in Montgomery County, just north of Philadelphia, members and pastors of the church took the message to the local ministerium, which quickly decided to form a chapter of its member churches in the Ambler-Wissahickon-Fort Washington area.
Heeding Delco: like Heeding Montco, Heeding Delco is recently organized. It is a group of ten to twelve Jewish and Chrisitian faith communities in Delaware County west and southwest of Philadelphia (Chester, Wallingford, Springfield, and Swarthmore); it evolved from an ad hoc group working with its local Congressman into an on-going chapter of Heeding.
These four new chapters in Southeastern Pennsylvania join the two already active in Northeast Philadelphia and Northwest Philadelphia. Active chapters in the District of Columbia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania constitute the remaining segments of Heeding God’s Call—eight in all and growing fast!
Does the struggle against gun violence and illegal gun trafficking sometimes feel to you endless, overwhelming, or futile? If so, read these words on the scriptural story of the redoubtable Jewish leader Gideon, a timely reflection written by Jim Atwood, who has recently stepped down from his long-time leadership of the Greater Washington chapter of Heeding God’s Call.
WE COULD HEAR THE TRUMPETS SOUND
Reverend James Atwood
Heeding God’s Call of Greater Washington
One evening when I was Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, VA., I was working on a Lenten sermon with members of the worship committee in the church library, which was adjacent to the sanctuary. The text dealt with human suffering and the pervasiveness of evil. As we shared our views on these terrible realities, we could hear our brass ensemble next door practicing for our celebration of Easter morning. In the background of everything said about evil, pain and injustice were those unmistakable, triumphant refrains: "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" and "Come, Ye Faithful Raise the Strain of Triumphant Gladness.” Yes, we were aware of evil, but we could also hear the trumpets.
And that’s the way it is! Every time we are in front of Realco Guns, the honks become the trumpets and we realize again and again we are on the winning side.
Most people who know any poetry of Carl Sandburg mention fog creeping in on little cat feet or brawny, broad-shouldered Chicago. However, the recent discovery of a previously unpublished, unknown poem of Sandburg’s will likely expand this limited knowledge of his work. Entitled “A Revolver,” the poem was discovered by a volunteer helping catalogue Sandburg’s poetry and prose at the University of Illinois.
(Thanks to Gail Golden of the Greater Washington chapter for passing Sandburg’s poem along.)
Here is a revolver.
It has an amazing language all its own.
It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.
It is the last word.
A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.
Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery, hide behind it.
It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.
It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.
It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.
It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.
When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme
court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of ex-
ecution come in and interfere with the original purpose.
And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the
bold belief that God is always on the side of those who have the
Mondays, 4:00 p.m.: Prayer Vigil at Realco Guns, District Heights, MD
First & Third Tuesdays, 3:30 p.m.: Prayer Vigil at Delia's Gun Shop, Torresdale Avenue, PA
Fourth Wednesdays, 4:00 p.m.: Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Gun Shoppe, 7492 Oxford Avenue, PA
Save the Date
September 21: International Day of Peace
September 22: Interfaith Forum: Religion and Violence