Molly Hicks, Old Haverford Meeting
On July 10, 2021, 19-year-old Layth Evans was shot and killed in Ardmore after a botched ghost gun sale. Shortly thereafter, I attended an interfaith vigil and press conference along with local clergy and lay leaders. Our goals were to honor Layth’s life and to bring further awareness to the increasingly prevalent issue of ghost guns.
I was already aware of the work of Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, but it was at this press conference that I met Bryan Miller, the organization’s Executive Director. Bryan and I began speaking about Old Haverford Meeting and Congregation Or Zarua hosting a Memorial to the Lost, and we brought Rabbi Shelly Barnathan and Pat Finley into the planning process from there.
Our display was originally planned for March 2022 but had to be postponed until June due to inclement weather. The coincidental nature of the memorial installation occurring shortly after the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Laguna Woods, and Tulsa galvanized community support, and we were fortunate to also have volunteers join us from other faith communities in the area.
Rev. Carolyn Cavaness of Bethel AME Church of Ardmore joined us for the dedication service, incorporating the message and language of Pentecost to urge us to be “Love on Fire” for each other and the world through our activism. Our interfaith community will come together again on Sunday June 12 at Bethel AME to honor the Mother Emanuel 9 on the weekend before the 7th anniversary of the attack on their church in Charleston, SC. I feel blessed to contribute to the ongoing public witness needed to end gun violence and bring about justice in our community and the world.
Pat Finley, Old Haverford Meeting
In 2007, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quakers invited the other two historic peace churches, the Mennonites and the Brethren, to plan a national peace conference. We worked and planned for more than a year, gradually bringing more faith communities into our planning. It was held at Arch Street Meetinghouse, January 17-20, 2009.
As part of a conference devoted to peace, we wanted to create an initiative that could sustain itself over time and not belong to just one community. We wanted to create an action that the conference participants could engage and be a model to take home after the conference. So, we chose to focus on gun violence as a peace and justice issue. This was the beginning of Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence.
The steering committee decided on a non-violent direct action (NVDA) and civil gun disobedience at Colosimo’s Gun shop in Philadelphia. Colosimo’s was chosen because in one year 22% of guns used in crimes in NY, NJ, and Philadelphia came from this shop. A large contingent from the conference went to the gun shop even though the temperature was below 10 degrees. Over the next few days of NVDA, twelve people were arrested. Members of the conference lined up late the first evening to loan or give cash for bail money. Ultimately, the charges for civil disobedience were dropped but the gun shop was closed permanently.
Heeding God’s Call, after 13 years, remains strong and faithful to its commitment to end gun violence, promote gun control legislation, and keep fresh the memory of people sacrificed to our national gun obsession.
Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, Congregation Or Zarua
Our Interfaith “Memorial to the Lost” on June 4, 2022, brought local faith communities together in the holiest of ways. For the Or Zarua community, we were marking the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the day when Torah was given. In honoring and building a memorial to victims of gun violence, we were all living out the central teaching of Torah, “You shall love your fellow human being as yourself.” We honor the divinity in each person, the idea that each person is created in the image of G-d.
And as a popular and contemporary song written by Rabbi Menachem Creditor on 9/11 says, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” a world of love shall be built. By coming together as various faith communities to erect memorials to victims of gun violence, we do the holy work of “Heeding G-d’s Call,” building a world of justice, peace, and honor for us all.