It was a heart-stopping, captivating memorial display along Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy in front of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) during election week.
The street-side display featured 201 mounted – shirts, each lettered with the name, age and date of death of someone killed during 2013 by illegal guns on the streets of Philadelphia.
The traveling display came to the seminary after a two-week stint outside St. Michael’s Lutheran Church down the street. Later it is moving to St. Martin in the Fields Church in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill.
Voters showing up Nov. 4 at the polling place on the seminary campus were visibly moved by the display, which had been set up the day before by LTSP professor Katie Day and volunteer seminarians.
“People at the polls are actually thrilled with the installation,” Day said.
Day has been an energetic part of movements in the city to halt gun violence. Day is part of Heeding God’s Call, which has done memorials like the one outside the seminary in Washington, D.C., Harrisburg and Chester. In October, the group did a display in North Philadelphia with hoodies, representing those just from North Philadelphia who had been killed by guns this year. That number was 54.
Members of the Northwest Philadelphia community have also visited the memorial. One mother, visiting the display, replaced the shirt memorializing her son with one she had marked with his birth date rather than date of death and a personal note on the back. “She didn’t want him remembered by his murder,” Day explained.
At the Eucharist held during the All Saints Day chapel service at the seminary Nov. 5, the shirts were incorporated into the service, and afterward congregants assembled outside to pray for the individuals represented.
In her Eucharist sermon, Day noted that at displays, loved ones have found their family member’s shirt and left flowers or other mementos.
“Philadelphia has had more gun murders,” she said in her sermon message, “than they had last year in the whole country of Canada, as well as Germany. We (in Philadelphia) had more than the combined total of gun deaths in the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Spain and Finland. Can you imagine? We have come to accept the unacceptable. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
At the end of the year, the shirts will move again.
“In January we will be making shirts covering the year 2014, and the first installation will be at the University of Pennsylvania,” Day said.