by Karen Plourde
A display of T-shirts hung on crosses to remember those killed by illegal guns in Philadelphia in 2013 has made a stirring statement on the lawn of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church since it arrived there Nov. 9.
This marks the first time the Memorial to the Lost, which has been displayed in several cities across the country, has taken up residence at St. Martin’s. But it represents a homecoming of sorts: Members of the parish came up with the idea of the Philadelphia version in 2012 and designed it. The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of St. Martin’s, saw a similar memorial on the North Side of Chicago when he served there.
“We wanted to evoke a person, and we wanted the names and the date they were killed,” Kerbel said. “That was very striking – a lot of young people.”
The 201 shirts also include the ages of the victims at the time of their death. Men’s names make up the vast majority, with many of those killed in their 20s and 30s, along with a number of teenagers. Included among them, though, was a shirt for a two-year old boy, Ryan Brown, who was shot and killed Dec. 23, 2013.
Several members of St. Martin’s, along with Kerbel, are involved with Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based movement to prevent gun violence.
The memorial serves as a remembrance of the victims, but also as a reminder that there are many who live with the threat of violence every day, according to Kerbel. The church keeps track of those killed in Philadelphia every week with candles lit on an altar.
“With over 200 people killed with gun violence, this is a daily reality in some areas in our city,” Kerbel said. “Once again, this constant reminder that people in our city are suffering because of our inaction.”
Heeding God’s Call has put forth a number of changes to gun laws in Pennsylvania and in other states where it has a presence. Those proposals include beefing up the potency of background checks, deterring the illegal buying and selling of guns and limiting gun purchases to one a month. Kerbel said these measures are difficult to pass in Pennsylvania because of the influence of the gun industry.
The experience of losing someone to gun violence has touched Kerbel personally. A member of his youth group in Chicago was shot and killed during his freshman year in college while trying to break up a fight at a party. Kerbel officiated at his funeral.
“That was a really terrible experience and really, really wrong,” he said. “And preventable.”
Kerbel said the display has gotten a lot of positive reaction.
“People stop, talk about it, get out of their cars, take pictures of it,” he said. “It’s hard to miss. It makes a pretty clear statement in areas where this is not a daily reality.”