Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, our congregation was profoundly moved to respond. That Sunday we shared prayers at church and lit candles in remembrance of those who died.
The following Sunday Marta Rose organized a group gathering to reflect on the violence in our own city. We felt that we would like to add our voices as a faith based community to those saying that gun violence must come to an end.
Julie Steiner reflected that our church has a prominent location from which to bear witness to the community of our commitment to build a more peaceful life for all our citizens. Many people walk and drive by on their way to work in the morning. Tourists pass by all year long.
We don’t want one single life to be forgotten. These are not lives “lost”. Their time on earth amongst us was tragically cut short, and often far too early. One life alone would be too many, but over 300 in a year is devastating. We are all diminished and all share collective responsibility.
The meeting at church filled me with sorrow, and when I went home and sat at my desk I found my hands folding and cutting paper doves. I had a small pile of paper doves, and that’s when I remembered Noah waiting for the dove to return to the ark with an olive branch, for some hope, some sign that the flood waters had receded.
I imagined all the doves in the courtyard at church, hanging from the trees, with an explanation, a sign, the words:
End Gun Violence
A new dove will be sent forth each time there is a firearm related death in Philadelphia
Until the flood waters of gun violence recede…
I spoke with a few people who had been involved in the discussion, who felt this would be a good public witness to our prayer for peace.
Janice Smith and I discussed the form the doves would take and the material that they could be made of. You can see a recent version in the photograph with this story.
We also discussed how we could involve the congregation in this witness. In their construction. In collecting the recycled materials from which they are fashioned. In hanging the doves in the frong courtyard.
I also worked on a design for the words to accompany the doves.
On New Year’s Day, the first 3 deaths occurred. I cut the doves out of paper and wrote a name on each dove, the age of the person who had died (as young as 16), and the date.
Then it became personal. When you write someone’s sacred name and years on earth down all of a sudden you are holding a symbol of a life in your hands. The exercise takes on a different quality. Seeing the group of them together it felt like a well of sadness poured down into the room and asked for prayer. I have added these names to those for whom I pray. I would like to do this as a community practice. I know the doves will grow in number over the year. But knowing their names, seeing signs of them, holding vigils and holding them in our prayers can be a powerful witness.
In remembering each person killed by gun violence within our city by name, we will be honoring lives beloved both in God’s eyes and in ours. We will hold out a vision of a world where we honor the humanity of every last one of us, and shelter the most vulnerable among us. This is not merely a political statement. In naming each victim of violence we are lifting up in sacred memory the light of each precious life.
This is a material, visible statement of faith, faith in a just world, faith that together with God’s help and our hands we will work together until peace reigns in every corner of our world.
Janice and I offer this article as a proposal really. Michael took our idea to the Elders, who said such a memorial seems within the bounds of our Vision and By-laws. They have asked us to share the idea, and then answer any questions and listen for any concerns or disagreement with hanging the doves in the front court.
So please address any questions or concerns to Janice or me.
If we hear no major concerns or objections from the community, we will next let you know when… no, invite you to join us in the courtyard for a prayerful “sending forth” / installation.