LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) — Sixty-five crosses dot the front lawn of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., one for each person in the city killed in an act of violence so far this year.
Each year the church closes its worship service on the second Sunday of Advent — which features lighting of the Peace Candle — by moving outdoors. As names of murder victims are read, families come forward, take a cross and drive it into the ground with a mallet.
The observance began in 1997, Joe Phelps' first year as pastor, to draw attention to a spike in murders in the metropolitan area. It was intended to be a one-time event, but response was so strong it was repeated in 1998 and every year since.
Now, Phelps said, many people in the community know Highland as "that church that
puts up crosses at Christmastime."
Phelps said placing the crosses on the lawn, reading the names, taking home names of people and families to pray for during Advent, has become a significant event on the congregation's church calendar.
"This annual event is a sobering dose of Advent reality in the midst of the frivolity of the larger community's Christmas preparations," Phelps said. "It is a reminder that the work of Christmas is not done, that we long for the day when God's wholeness will cover the earth, when lion and lamb will lie down together."
Phelps said the crosses are not intended to imply that each murder victim is a Christian, but "that God identifies with the pain and brokenness in every life lost."
"It is a testament to the hope that God is not done," he said.
Homicides in Louisville are down this year, despite seven apparently unrelated slayings during the week of Thanksgiving.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.