Guns Turned Into Garden Tools at State College Presbyterian
"And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." -- Isaiah 2:3-4
That Bible passage is closely tied with the church's focus on non-violence. It refers to making a peaceful item out of one used to hurt others.
We don't often use swords or plowshares in today's world, but the message comes across just as strongly when turning guns into garden tools.
Raw Tools, a Colorado-based group, is doing just that with its PeaceMaker tour, which stopped off at the State College Presbyterian Church last night.
Two blacksmiths stood outside the church, heating up pieces of a handgun barrel and hammering them out on an anvil to create a garden tool. Inside the church, attendees watched the forging on a live stream while hearing speeches, songs, poems, and more about gun violence.
One local mother, Rebekah Carswell, heard about the event through her church and decided to bring her children so that they could soak in the positive message.
"I grew up in the Church of the Brethren, which is one of the three historic peace churches. There's Quakers, and Mennonites, and Brethren. I grew up with that foundation of service and social justice and peace or non-violence," Carswell says. "I thought this was a great event and it's very tangible for kids to see them take something that's non-violent and turn it into something that can promote life and peace. That was the real draw for us, to be able to bring the kids out there."
Carswell's daughter Naomi, 7, was mesmerized by the red-hot gun barrel's transformation as it continuously came in and out of a kiln that's heated to over 2,000 degrees.
"It's funny. They're melting a gun. It's really hot," Naomi says. "It can melt the snow. What they're doing is good because now the gun can be useful."
Phil Jones, a member of State College Presbyterian, also stepped outside to check out the forging work being done on a chilly State College evening. Jones says that the event's focus on non-violence is an important one.
"At the church, we're very interested in trying to curb the violence in our communities that comes from guns. We understand that people have a right to own them, but we're concerned about weapons that are used for violence against other individuals," Jones says. "If you turn to that scripture from Isaiah, you can now see a visual representation of that out here. We can read the scripture, but to actually have a weapon that's been used and bring it off of the streets and symbolically turn it into a helpful implement helps people understand things better."
Inside the church, presenters including Penn State student and poet David Gaines stepped up to the altar to hammer home the message. Gaines told a story in the form of a poem, detailing a school shooting that could have been stopped.
Yvette Willson from the Centre County Women's Resource Center told people packed into rows of church pews about statistics on gun violence. In 2012, there were 8,855 gun-related homicides in the United States.
Ben Wideman, a campus pastor for the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, helped organize the event. Wideman is the pastor for 3rd Way Collective.
"What we really wanted to do was create a discussion that brought faith-based organizations together with those focused on peace and non-violence advocacy. What Raw Tools does seemed like a perfect fit," Wideman says. "The Mennonite tradition has always been about peace, and that passage from Isaiah is at the core of our philosophy as a peace church. Seeing a modern representation seems like a perfect way to take an old, old passage and make it relevant in today's world."
The event culminated with a presentation of the completed garden tools outside the church. The repurposed gun barrels will be used at the church and in community gardens.