NEWBURYPORT — The Rev. James E. Curry brought a hammer and tongs to the backyard of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Sunday to show a small crowd how to bang and bend shotgun barrels into garden trowels and spades.
As he fired up a portable forge to turn 7-inch lengths of gun barrels white hot, Curry talked about how his experience working with victims of gun violence and seeing the devastation caused by firearms brought him to the Swords to Plowshares Northeast program.
Curry, a retired Episcopal bishop in Connecticut, co-founded the program with Steve Yanovsky, the communications director of Newtown Action Alliance/The Newtown Foundation, and several others. The effort grew, in part, from the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
Swords to Plowshares turns tools of violence into tools for peace that can be used in gardens to feed people in need. The program obtains firearms from police department gun buyback programs, then cuts them up for raw material that’s heated in a forge, hammered and shaped to make a variety of garden tools.
The work is done by prisoners in participating prisons, individuals from reentry programs and volunteer blacksmiths.
Curry said the finished tools are donated to community gardens, agricultural high schools or churches, and either put to use in gardens, or used in fundraisers to benefit soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Mayor Donna Holaday was the first of a dozen or so volunteers, including St. Paul’s Rev. Jarred Mercer, to work with Curry to pound super-heated gun parts into flattened shapes. Holaday hefted the hammer as Curry held a split section of gun barrel with tongs against an anvil to flatten the steel for what Curry said he would finish as a garden trowel as a gift to Holaday as she readies to leave office in January.
Curry talked about how the Swords to Plowshares program aims to “change the conversation around gun violence. We have a chance not to allow guns to rule our lives.”
Through the blacksmithing demonstrations, Curry says he hopes people see that “the transformation was not just of the gun into a garden tool, it has to do with transforming ourselves, to turn away from the violence that was so rampant” in some communities.
Firearms are used in homicides and massacres, like Sandy Hook, but more than half of deaths from guns are suicides, Curry said. In addition, children are often gunshot victims when firearms are carelessly stored in homes.
Curry gave garden trowels made from repurposed gun barrels to Jessica Wilson, executive director of Mill City Grows, an urban farming program in Lowell that provides fresh produce to thousands of people each year, and to Liz Green with Three Sisters Garden Project in Ipswich, which grows fresh produce for community food programs on the North Shore. Then, Wilson and Green took their turns with the heavy hammers to help flatten a section of a gun barrel.
Earlier, Curry cut half-inch-wide circles from a shotgun barrel and, with help from volunteers, hammered the rings into heart shapes that would later be sanded smooth and given to the volunteers.
The name of the program comes from Isaiah 2:4 in the Bible, which reads:
“They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nor shall they study war any more.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree.
No one shall make them afraid.”
For more online about Swords to Plowshares Northeast: www.s2pnortheast.org/.