Location: Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Twin Cities
On July 15, 2023, an event of profound significance took place at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in the heart of the Twin Cities. "Seen & Heard: Bullets to Bells Healing Ceremony" is a powerful interfaith gathering that aimed to provide a space for healing and collective reflection on the lasting impact of gun violence.
The vision for this ceremony was born in February 2023 when Rev. Wendy J. Manuel heard an NPR story about artist Stephanie Mercedes, known for her extraordinary work melting guns and transforming them into bells. The idea resonated deeply with Rev. Wendy, who envisioned a ritual where a bell could be rung for each victim of mass shootings, elevating communal lament in a tangible, audible, and visible way.
Art has the power to speak to our innermost emotions and awaken "moral sentiments" - feelings of empathy, compassion, and shared humanity. As David Brooks wrote in The New York Times, art can evoke reactions that call for an end to cruelty and promote acts of generosity. Additionally, rituals and collective lamentation have the potential to help communities slow down and acknowledge the grief that lingers long after tragedy strikes.
The Bullets to Bells ceremony sought to be a truly interfaith event, providing a platform for those impacted by gun violence to be seen and heard. The hope is that this powerful gathering will inspire churches and organizations to integrate these bells into their worship and prayer spaces, fostering an ongoing message of peace and healing.
The event featured a poignant liturgy of lament, soul-stirring music, and the melting of bullet casings - a transformation from instruments of harm into symbols of hope. Stephanie Mercedes, the gifted artist behind this endeavor, has exhibited and performed at prestigious institutions, including the Bronx Museum, the Queens Museum, the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, and the National Gallery of Art. Her dedication to art's transformative potential is further highlighted by her upcoming project, "Never in Our Image," a three-part, queer gun destruction opera set to premiere in fall 2023.
A mesmerizing art piece created by Stephanie Mercedes featuring more than 40 bells melted from bullets, each bearing the name of a victim lost to gun violence during a mass shooting.*
The process involved melting bullet casings to create two bells during the ceremony. These bells, infused with the collective energy of the attendees, were left with the community as a testament to resilience and unity in the face of adversity. The ceremony was thoughtfully managed by Wendy J. Manuel, a retired chaplain and valued member of First Christian Church, MPLS, who volunteered as the project manager to bring this profound vision to fruition.
The Seen & Heard ceremony was made possible through the generous collaboration of Stephanie Mercedes, The ceremony's impact reached beyond the physical gathering, with plans to include artist talks by Stephanie Mercedes at various locations to inspire further transformative projects.
MACGV would like to extend its heartfelt appreciation to everyone who volunteered and participated in making this ceremony a poignant reality. The healing power of art, combined with communal lament, is a vital step towards acknowledging the pain of gun violence victims and advocating for change.
For more information about Stephanie Mercedes and her extraordinary art, visit her website: https://www.stephaniemercedes.com.
You can also find her on YouTube, Instagram @mercedes_theartist, Artsy, and District Fray Magazine.
The "Seen & Heard: Bullets to Bells Healing Ceremony" was an extraordinary testament to the transformative power of art, communal healing, and unity. As the Twin Cities community continues to stand against gun violence, events like these serve as a beacon of hope and resilience, inspiring positive change and a safer world for all. Together, let us be seen and heard as we raise our voices for a better tomorrow.