Members of the normally pacifist Raleigh Mennonite Church engaged in a bit of violence on Sunday, taking turns swinging a hammer to pound red-hot gun metal into garden tools.
Taking a cue from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who said people would one day “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” the church invited in RAWtools Inc., a Colorado-based group that says it wants to teach people alternative means of problem-solving, for a demonstration in the church parking lot near downtown.
The group’s motto is “Disarming hearts, forging peace.”
The church’s pastor, Melissa Florer-Bixler, said she was introduced to the group’s message at a denominational meeting in Ohio, and thought Veterans Day weekend would be a good time to host it. Raleigh Mennonite is the only Mennonite congregation in Eastern North Carolina, Florer-Bixler said, and about 50 people worship at the church on Sundays. About twice that many came for the plowshares event.
The event started by turning the church’s regular Sunday service into a lament for those who have died as a result of gun violence – more than 33,000 each year in the United States. The sanctuary was adorned with thousands of tiny lights to signify the deaths, and 26 candles burned on an altar, one for each of the victims who died in the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last Sunday.
“Those are the ones that get all the attention,” Florer-Bixler said of mass shootings, another of which occurred early Saturday at a night club in Fayetteville, with one person dead and four others injured.
But more than two-thirds of all gun deaths in the United States are suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And of those, 18 percent are military veterans, according to the Veterans Administration, which says that about 20 veterans die by suicide every day.
The event at the church also coincided with Sunday’s Survivors Walk, a downtown event sponsored by Triangle Survivors of Suicide to raise awareness and promote suicide prevention.
After the service, worshipers walked into the church parking lot, where Larry Martin of Harrisonburg, Va., a blacksmith whose work normally leans toward the ornamental, used a gas-powered forge set up on a trailer to heat a section of a gun barrel until it was red hot. He then set it on an anvil and beat it with a hammer, the sound ringing like a high-pitched chime.
“We want to show people that guns are not the answer to their problems,” Martin said.
On a table, RAWtools founder and CEO Mike Martin, no relation to the blacksmith, offered for sale items forged from gun metal: garden hoes and hand rakes and heart-shaped pendant necklaces.