“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” - Isaiah 2:4
What does it mean to beat swords into plowshares in the midst of our nation’s capital? This question, and many others were behind an event at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2013. For the National Observance of Children’ s Sabbath, the Children’s Defense Fund organized and sponsored an event titled, "Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty". In addition to a service dedicated to these themes, the organization also ran a blacksmith station outside the cathedral where Park View Mennonite Church’s very own Larry Martin worked at transforming gun barrels into gardening tools.
Larry’s involvement in this event is one of those happy coincidences that comes along every so often. The Children’s Defense Fund was working with a group called RawTools based in Colorado Springs, CO that promotes transforming weapons into gardening implements. But due to the difficulties involved in getting a blacksmith and tools to the east coast RawTools began looking around for local help that might be interested in this opportunity.
While browsing the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center’s website they noticed that the Center had a blacksmith on staff. They contacted Larry and asked whether he’d be interested in participating in this event.
To explain how Larry got into the blacksmith hobby requires a journey back to his life pre-Heritage center. For most of his career Larry taught welding and other courses at Massanutten Technical Center. But a different kind of metalwork was his hobby. Smithing has long been an interest of Larry’s and he is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Blacksmith Guild. When he was contacted about being part of this event he did his research and decided that it was something that he wanted to be a part of.
At the event Larry, and his assistant Marty Miller, were set up at the entrance to the National Cathedral with another blacksmith. Starting at 9am they worked on beating gun barrels into garden tools (see image above) until 12:30. During that time there were 2 regularly scheduled services that came and went from the Cathedral. Several congregants from the service and staff from the Children’s Defense Fund stopped by to talk about the work that was being done. Also present at the event were members of the D.C. police force who presented several gun barrels for transformation. Larry described the officers as very interested in and happy with the work that was being done.
Several people told Larry how personally meaningful the work he was doing was to them. People who had lost family members to gun violence were particularly moved by the intentional repurposing of these weapons into tools for community gardens. Moreover, this event which demonstrated a unique yet poignant way to strive for peace and wholeness in our communities was a very powerful and meaningful day for all who had the opportunity to attend.