Bishop Jim Curry wears an orange stole over his robe as he presides over St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Sunday morning, June 11, the same color worn to warn a hunter, “I’m here, I’m alive.” The bold stole also reflects the color of the national gun violence prevention movement — inspired by friends of
15-year-old Hadiya Pendelton, who was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013.

Orange is frequently visible in June, the month which is designated as Gun Violence Prevention Month.

“People wear orange as a reminder that you don’t have to live caught in that violence,” Curry said. “We are part of a movement across the world that says it doesn’t have to be the way it is.”

This year alone, almost 19,000 people have died from gun violence. It is the leading cause of death for children and teenagers. Curry called it “personal” to everyone.

“We as a society are caught in the grips of violence and pain but also way too often we’re caught in despair, ” he said in his sermon. “What can one person do, what can a small community do?”

Curry, a retired Episcopalian bishop, spoke Sunday about the need to address gun violence. Then, he invited the community to transform the weapons of violence into tools for life themselves.

In the event Curry led after the service, Wilton residents took turns shaping gun parts into garden tools. Kids and adults alike took a hammer to the anvil, one by one working to split the barrel of a shotgun in half to become the prongs of a garden tool, then forming hearts from rings made from shotgun barrels.

The event was held by Swords to Plowshares Northeast, a nonprofit Curry co-founded seven years ago that works to reduce the number of guns and repurpose them into tools that can help communities.

He was driven to do this work by one thing: “Too many deaths.”

“In 1994, there was a 7-year-old Puerto Rican girl in Hartford who was asleep in her father’s car. They were taking groceries to their grandmother, less than a mile away from one of our churches, and a car drove up next to them and shot and killed this little girl who was asleep in the backseat. And that was at a time when my twin daughters were five,” Curry said. “It just has stayed with me forever.”

Through buyback programs organized with local municipalities, community members surrender their guns to the non-profit. After the weapons are transformed, the garden tools are used in the communities they came from to grow food that will be donated to homeless shelters.

“It’s one little step, but it’s something you can keep in mind [to know] it’s possible to move from the gun and the violence to transforming it into something that has power for hope,” Curry said, later adding, “I can’t tell you how great it feels to take the hammer to the gun.”

Curry travels to different parts of New England to host events almost every weekend,
demonstrating how this transformation can heal communities while effectively reducing the number of guns and inspiring awareness and advocacy.

The Swords to Plowshares organization is grounded in spirituality — its name is inspired from a passage from Isaiah that calls for people to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” — to replace violence with peace.

“A little child shall lead them…”

Wilton’s event began with a prayer led by Curry remembering all those affected by gun violence, and introductory opening remarks from Curry and CT State Sen. Ceci Maher (D-26).

Three children volunteered to strike the gun barrel first. Curry instructed them to hit it like a baseball.

“A little child shall lead them,” Curry paraphrased from the Christian prophet Isaiah as he waited for others to line up, “but he needs followers.”

The line soon grew, and everyone who watched became the “cheerleaders.” When St.
Matthew’s Rev. Marissa Rohrbach took the hammer, the bishop encouraged her to hit harder, to “think about the fact that she was beating a gun.” She found the experience surreal.

“You’re taking something that could have done this tremendous amount of damage and then all of a sudden turning into something that actually gives life,” Rohrbach said. “It’s a really sort of cathartic thing.”

After the gun barrel had been split into prongs by participants, Curry invited attendees to forge small hearts that they’d make into necklaces, both as memento and symbol.

“We’re caught in the midst of violence that is so, so paralyzing. And yet at the forge we can make a heart … and have a symbol of transformation,” he said.

Curry said symbols like the heart and the garden tools made from the guns represent new life and can help people and communities affected by gun violence heal. By transforming the guns into tools of life with their own hands, people symbolically take power and control back.

“For people who are families of victims and victims of gun violence, to take the hammer to the gun, has shifted the power,” Curry said. “That gun had huge, tragic power, and yet now with the hammer and transforming into a garden tool, the individual has power.”

In his sermon, Curry discussed how many symbols of hope come from symbols of tragedy and grief. Around his neck, he wears a cross — a Christian symbol for hope — also forged from a gun.

Work in the Statehouse, Community, Home and Church

Earlier this month, the state passed the House bill, ‘An Act Addressing Gun Violence’ increasing various gun violence prevention measures. In her opening remarks at Sunday’s event, Maher expressed her support for what was taking place there and the importance of action to combat gun violence.

“As the former interim executive director at Sandy Hook Promise, the impact of trauma on children and families and communities from gun violence is so strong and so heartbreaking,” Maher said. “Please know that I support this, I support any effort to get guns off our streets.”

In Connecticut, all guns legally must be safely secured, but Curry said many aren’t. He encourages people in communities to ask the tough questions, including asking other families if they have a gun and if it’s stored properly before children visit one another, something that could save a life.

Two Wilton police officers also attended the event, each forging a heart. The Wilton Police Department will take any unwanted guns from the community, and officers encourage anyone looking to surrender one to call the Wilton department for more information.

Rohrbach said she hopes the words of the bishop and the event Sunday will inspire people to take on the mission of gun violence prevention into their lives and continue to build a safer world.

“It’s so important that we start to address things like that in church,” Rohrbach said. “It’s so important that we start to do it at the parish level so that our people can have their hands in it the way that they did today.”

Curry said the event at St. Matthew’s ‘plants the seeds’ both for gun violence prevention and awareness in Wilton and beyond, as well as for his partnership with Wilton organizations.

“My biggest hope is that we can have people really face the question,” Curry said. “‘What is the place of guns in my life, in our lives?’”