There’s something to be said about the simple beauty of honest, physical work. Some tough occupations fall under that umbrella, but the satisfaction of physically seeing the fruits of one’s labor at each day’s end is something not often found with Excel spreadsheets and email inboxes. That daily sense of fulfillment is a quality that endures across various jobs taken up by craftsmen, whether it’s a carpenter putting the final varnish on a workbench or a glassblower watching an ornate vase cool down.
One such craftsman has decided to double down on the fulfillment of his blacksmithing by pairing it with a healthy dose of community involvement. Jim Curry is a part-time metal worker and bishop at the Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, CT. When he’s not presiding over his congregation, Curry can often be found in the church parking lot using his skillset as part of his program to curb gun violence in the Guilford community.
An ace at his portable blacksmithing station, the bishop hammers away for hours at a 2,000-degree forge until the pile of donated rifles and shotguns is depleted. Rather than simply melting them down, Curry converts them into different devices — gardening tools.
Inspired by the famed passage from Isaiah 2:4 that says, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” Curry says he was drawn to reinventing something that, much like a sword, is often a means to a different end entirely. In addition to providing a sense of community engagement, the routine helps the bishop remind area residents that even death can give way to new life. Likewise, the most destructive of us can find a renewed purpose, even when wore down.
As a reminder of this core truth, Curry keeps a cross around his neck made from the inner parts of an AK-47 assault rifle. “… we do the worst we can to one another, and the cross is the sign of that. We kill each other,” he says. But that is only one side of humanity’s coin — the seemingly endless cycle of pain and trauma exists alongside an equally expansive capacity to love and protect one another. “But God takes that element, and then God’s love breaks it apart, reshapes it, and transforms that into the sign of greatest hope — the cross, and that’s why I wear it.”
Curry’s passion for this symbolic conversion process can be traced back to 2017 when he founded the Swords to Plowshares Northeast nonprofit. He likes to make these forge days into public events, even going as far as allowing onlookers to hammer away at tools of their own. “When we started evangelizing and talking to police departments and communities around the country, and we could show them the actual transformation, these weapons of death into instruments of life, it’s just been an amazing process,” he says. “People really get it.”
The idea for Swords to Plowshares Northeast came from a Mennonite church group in Colorado. Named RAWtools, the group takes a similar process of collecting unwanted guns and melting them down under the motto “Disarm hearts. Forge peace. Cultivate justice.”
After an apprenticeship with the organization, Curry was on his way to coordinating gun buybacks with local police organizations and community groups on the East Coast. What’s the next challenge? Curry plans on finally getting formal blacksmithing training and taking the mission to the next level. “This is really magic,” he says.