Swords into ploughshares: London churches tackle knife violence

18 June 2019

red letter Christians uk

Metalsmith Mike Turner turns a knife into a new garden tool

Metalsmith Mike Turner turns a knife into a new garden tool

KNIVES seized from the streets of Newham, East London, were beaten and melted down to make garden tools and create a sculpture, at an event on Saturday.

It was organised by Red Letter Christians UK, a network of activists launched earlier this year in the UK (News, 11 January).

The Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police in Newham, Waheed Khan, had agreed to release knives that had been seized from the streets of Newham, which had the highest murder rate of any London borough last year. Under the supervision of a metalsmith and two blacksmiths, people were invited to “beat these knives from death to life”, in the words of liturgy crafted for the occasion.

red letter Christians ukWeapons seized from the streets of Newham

The Revd Dr Sally Mann, minister at Bonny Downs Baptist Church, East Ham, and a trustee and spokesperson for Red Letter Christians UK, said on Monday: “Newham has been really at the heart of this crisis of violence. . . We got people together and said we need to make a stand against cultures of violence. . .

“We saw young people who had lost friends to knife crime, coming to beat those knives. . . And our mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, came and she really beat those knives. You could tell that this was personal for her. . .

“Those knives are going to be created into a beautiful sculpture for our community garden, and for tools that we can use to grow food together in the community project over there at Bonny Downs Community Association.”

The community leader and author Shane Claiborne was also at the event. He leads Red Letter Christians in the US, along with the Revd Dr Tony Campolo, and has been in the UK to launch the movement here.

“We’ve been melting guns down over in the US,” he said on Monday. “We’ve had 37 cities where we’ve taken donated guns and turned them into garden tools, inspired by the prophetic vision of Isaiah: ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares.’”

Given that gun violence is far less common in the UK, the movement here turned its attention to knife violence. Knife offences reached a record 40,000 in England and Wales last year, and about one third of the offences occurred in London.

The act of transforming guns and knives into garden tools was “symbolic in one sense”, Mr Claiborne said. “We’re transforming a piece of metal from something that is designed to kill into something that is designed to inspire and cultivate life.

“But it really goes a lot deeper than that. There’s a space that it creates to honour people’s pain and grief. It’s kind of a public lament of the violence that hurts so many people and takes so many lives.”

red letter Christians ukFrom left: the Newham Police Superintendent, Waheed Khan; the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz; the Revd Dr Sally Mann; Shane Claiborne; Stephen Timms MP

At the Newham event on Saturday, those attending chanted a response to a short liturgy that called for an end to violence, which had been created by people at near by churches. It concluded with the words: “We beat these knives from death to life.”

The event was also addressed by the Labour MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms, a former chair of Christians on the Left, and the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz.

During the day, about 600 young people took part in the 16th annual London Churches Football Tournament, organised by Ambassadors Football.

A young person, Paris Tankard, said on Saturday: “I’ve seen first-hand how knife crime affects communities, having lost my friend to an attack just four months ago. I’m here today because events like this are incredibly important in helping communities to stand up against violence.” 

Listen to an interview with Shane Claiborne on the Church Times Podcast, talking about his new book, Beating Guns: Hope for people who are weary of violence.

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