A church in New Orleans is raising awareness about violence in their community by posting a "Murder Board" outside of their building.
The 4 x 8 foot white sign is anchored to the wall of St. Anna's Episcopal Church and has a list of names in black lettering that read something like this: Jan. 6, Keian Ester, 11, shot; Jan. 7, Michael Johnson, 21, shot; Jan. 7, Eric Robinson, 41, shot/burned.
The Rev. Bill Terry, rector of St. Anna's, said that even just a few weeks into the year they have already added at least 20 names to the board.
The idea for the board started after a string of violent deaths hit the city in 2007. New Orleans officials acknowledged the deaths with a large anti-crime march on City Hall and then, Terry told The Christian Post in an email, "the following weeks were silent except for the continuing gun fire and carnage. It seemed that nothing had changed."
Disappointed with the lack of concern and after conversations with a Deacon-in-training at the church, Terry said he realized that in order to bring about change to the city they needed a way to humanize the violence. And the best way to do that was "to name the victims."
Now, every Sunday, the church reads the names of victims killed by violent crime, and every week Terry climbs a ladder and adds new names to the growing list on the "Murder Board."
"Some weeks more than others are heavy with loss," Terry told CP. "Like when I write the name of an innocent four year old, a one year old, a ten year old caught in cross fire. Yet, it is a holy act done with reverence and never taken for granted."
And the board is making a difference in the community. Terry said it is "a quiet reminder for many" and "a public acknowledgment of worth." After seeing her son's name on the board, one woman wept and told him: "Thank you. I didn't think anyone cared about my baby."
Describing the impact the board has had in the community, Terry told The Episcopal News Service, "A lot of people say, 'what good does it do, does it stop the murders?' But one police officer broke into tears at the sight of the board. She is a police officer and she had no idea of the totality of the violence and death. When you see the names, that has the power to transform people. She left, changed."
Part of what drives violence in New Orleans, is a profound lack of self-worth, Terry explained to CP. "The only worth [that] can be garnered [is] by muscle, dominance, and such is fed by a culture rife with violent language and music that sets the stage for spontaneous and personal rage played out with a gun."
But through the sign, St. Anna's is proving that the church can help combat this rage and urban violence.
"In New Orleans what would it look like if every church, every Cathedral, every denomination had a murder board?" Terry posed. "What would it look like if every church, every Cathedral, every denomination identified a program for children in poverty and put their resources considerable or limited to supporting that program?"
The church has also started a "safe house" program for at-risk kids called Anna's Art for Kids. "We compete with the streets and with this culture of violence [in] creating a culture of creativity and self-worth," the rector commented.
"This is a long haul war against violence, a remedy will not happen overnight. But we know this, when one of our kids is with us they are not on the Murder Board."