In September, several Mennonite churches from Northwest Ohio worked together to host a community event about gun safety. Several organizations, such as RAWtools and Mennonite Central Committee, also helped make this event successful.
By Nancy Roynon Beck
Have you ever wanted to make something happen but did not know how? That was me last January. I was teaching the Mennonite Central Committee curriculum FEAR NOT: Creating a plan to respond to active violence as a Sunday school class. We had great discussions regarding gun violence, safety, mass shootings and active shooter drills in classrooms. It seemed imperative that we work against this violence and help heal the wounds created by guns. Having already known about RAWtools and Michael Martin, having seen their work at the anvil and having experienced beating on a gun barrel at a forge, I wanted more people in Northwest Ohio to have this experience.
After speaking with Michael, Jes Buller from MCC and Allen Rutter from Shalom Counseling and Mediation Center in Archbold, Ohio, I shared my thoughts with Sue Short, pastor at Zion Mennonite Church. She suggested that I ask the Mennonite churches in the area to put an announcement in their bulletins to look for volunteers for a committee. Heather Myers from Tedrow Mennonite Church and Brittany Spotts from Lockport Mennonite Church volunteered. Michael referred us to Joel Shenk from Toledo Mennonite Church to do the forge work in Michael’s place, and Joel agreed.
What began as a community event to share concerns and stories centered on the misuse of firearms turned into a bigger conversation on community and gun safety.
What started as something I wanted to see, turned into a collaborative, multi-church event, led by a small group of concerned people. A request to the Ohio Conference for a Ministry Grant yielded the financial help we needed.
The local sheriff’s office was invited to send a representative. He was willing to come if this was not an “anti-gun” event. This type of event would become political. It became apparent that, in an area of high gun ownership, gun safety was a better focus. And it was critical to us that people learned more about how guns are used as a means for suicide, as well as about gun accidents in the home and safe storage education.
On Sept. 24, “Disarming Violence: Starting a Conversation about Gun Safety in our Community,” was held in the Central Mennonite Church parking lot. God granted us a beautiful fall afternoon for the family-centered event. There was food, information tables, blacksmithing at the forge, a time for kid’s activities, and there was time to listen to representatives from area agencies.
While folks enjoyed entrées from the food truck, kettle corn provided by the Dinius family and ice-cold slushies, Joel Shenk staffed the forge. He explained the preparation involved in turning the gun barrel into a garden tool. Attendees took turns at the forge, beating on the hot metal. We completed one tool and worked on several others.
Jes Buller led the kid’s activities, helping the children understand more about perspectives and how we do not all see things the same way. She also spoke to the entire group about the work of peacemaking.
Wendy Jennings represented NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and shared about the ripple effect of trauma. Any trauma or violent event, any suicide or gun-related injury or death, affects many more than just the person to whom it happened.
Deputy Smithmeyer from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office spoke about the importance of gun safety and safe storage. He provided cable locks for guns, free of charge.
Tonie Long from the Four County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board, shared statistics and stories relating to the relationship between guns and death by suicide. She said that there are usually 15 minutes between the time a person decides to take their own life and the attempt. If a gun is locked or in a safe, that may save their life.
Allen Rutter from Shalom gave meaningful information on recognizing signs of suicide and what to do. It was also pointed out that these local organizations work together to build a safer, healthier community.
Our group watched in amazement, as nearly 100 people attended all or part of the event. The fruit of our planning around the table had turned into a larger conversation that others were also interested in having. Hosting an event like this isn’t going to change the world, but it just might change one person’s life. And that can make all the difference.
Nancy Roynon Beck, attracted to the pacifist stance, chose the Mennonite church with her late husband. She is a retired nurse, and she enjoys spending time with her new husband and their combined 21 grandchildren. She limits her volunteering to allow for exercising, dirt therapy, trying new recipes, and recently, she resumed piecing and quilting.
This article was originally shared online as part of Mennonite Church USA’s Learn, Pray, Join: End Gun Violence initiative and is republished with permission. To see the article on the Mennonite Church USA website, go to https://bit.ly/DisarmingViolence.