Blacksmithing bishop turns guns into plowshares in Connecticut
Episcopal bishop Jim Curry lights the furnace of his portable blacksmith’s shop in the parking lot of Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, Connecticut. The furnace glows orange and lets off a low roar. It’ll get up to 2,000 degrees — hot enough to soften the metal of a tray of disassembled shotgun parts so they can be hammered against an anvil and remolded.
“We make our trowels out of shotgun barrels," he says.
Curry picks 9-year-old Oliver Whaley out from the crowd to help him.
"This is really magic," Curry says. "Right before your very eyes, you’re gonna see Oliver transform this gun, this instrument of potential harm, into something that could never be a gun ever again. It’s gonna be a trowel.”
Curry lines a sawed-off portion of a shotgun barrel against the anvil and hands Oliver the hammer. Oliver swings cautiously at first. The metal shotgun barrel starts to bend. He reshapes it into a trowel you could use to plant flowers in a garden.
Oliver says he was a little nervous, so close to the furnace, with flakes of red-hot metal falling around his feet.
“But it was also exciting because it was one of my first times hammering something," he says.
He hopes it’s not his last. He wants to take blacksmithing lessons when he's older.
"I love the fact that you can take metal that's, like, random, and you can shape it into something that's actually useful.”
Curry says he was inspired by a Mennonite group in Colorado who reforged guns into garden tools as part of a nonviolence initiative. The phrase —swords to plowshares — has a biblical origin.
"It comes from the prophet Isaiah, who was talking about a terribly troubled, violent, uncertain society," he says. "And what he said is they'll beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not raise up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Retired Episcopal priest Mary Ann Osborne first volunteered with Swords to Plowshares when a family member fell victim to gun violence.
“And so anything that I can do to help prevent that happening to anyone else, or any kind of gun violence to prevent that from happening to anyone, it's a horrible thing to go through," she says.
Osborne helps collect guns through buybacks held by local police departments.
“So you see the guns lying there in a row, from AR-15s to handguns to antique guns, and then you see them get broken down," she says. "And then you see people here go to the anvil and hammer them, and then you see people digging their gardens and something grows. So you actually see the transformation.”
She says the hammer, anvil and forge are powerful symbols that the epidemic of gun violence can be reshaped into something positive and peaceful.
"And I feel such a desperate need for that," she says. "In my heart and my soul and people's lives, I see that desire. When there's such despair, particularly now in our country, people need to know that we can change. There is hope.”
Bishop Curry wears a constant reminder of that hope on his neck. It’s two big pieces of metal molded into the shape of a cross. When Mozambique's civil war ended in the 1990s, artists gathered guns used in the war and found ways to repurpose them into works of art, like this cross.
"And it's made out of pieces of an AK-47, the piston that creates the automatic action and the sights," he says. "And it is for us, the fact that we do the worst we can to one another, and the cross is the sign of that. We kill each other. But God takes that element and then God's love breaks it apart, reshapes it reforms that transforms that into the sign of greatest hope — the cross, and that's why I wear it.”
Curry’s mobile forge is on its way next to New York City, Maine and Pennsylvania. And he says people can donate their own guns to the forge — just in case they’d like to take up gardening instead.