In Chestnut Hill, a faith-based memorial to gun victims

A memorial to victims of gun violence in Philadelphia covers a lawn in front of the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. Each shirt on a cross represents a victim.
A memorial to victims of gun violence in Philadelphia covers a lawn in front of the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. Each shirt on a cross represents a victim. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 23, 2013

Heeding God's Call, a faith-based movement against gun violence, has installed a strong visual memorial along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill - a field of 331 crosses on the front lawn of a Presbyterian church, each holding a T-shirt with the name, age, and date when one of Philadelphia's murder victims was killed in 2012.

"Philadelphia - highest major- city gun death rate," reads a sign facing drivers on the neighborhood's main thoroughfare. "Where are you, Mayor Nutter?"

About 60 volunteers from three area churches built the memorial Saturday, fashioning small crosses from PVC piping, using markers to inscribe a name on each shirt, and lining up the crosses in front of the church.

"I think we were all amazed at how powerful it was as a memorial," said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God's Call, described as "a faith-based and grassroots movement to end gun violence" on its website, www.heedinggodscall.org.

The organization has been active in the Philadelphia area for months, holding occasional demonstrations - described as "public witnesses" - at gun shops and gun murder sites. It is planning a prayer vigil Wednesday in the state Capitol.

The group is promoting a voluntary code of conduct for gun dealers, developed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group founded in 2006 by 15 mayors, including New York City's Michael Bloomberg and Boston's Thomas Menino.

The code - already in place for several years at Walmart stores - includes 10 points designed to curb illegal gun trafficking.

The list includes: videotaping all retail firearms transactions, maintaining a computerized log of any gun-related crimes where the gun has been traced back to the retailer, accepting only government-issued photo ID cards, and performing background checks on all employees involved in selling or handling firearms.

Miller said the memorial would likely stay in place about two weeks in front of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, then move to the other two area churches - the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown - whose members adopted the work as a service project in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"It takes a large lawn to fit it. We weren't really sure how big it would be," Miller said. "Eventually we hope to take it on a tour of the city."


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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