The notes were written by hand on orange, blue and yellow slips of paper, jotted down after a prayer during a New Year's Day church service to honor the dead children of Baltimore. The parishioners were called on to record their commitment to help a child, to stop the killings, to heal a city that seems beyond repair.
No names were signed, but the papers were placed in the offering plate, a covenant with God and the people who attended the service nine days ago at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation on North Charles Street. I joined the Rev. Jan Hamill yesterday as she read them for the first time.
"I promise to make a distressed neighborhood my home - filled with my reckless faith and God's great love," one worshiper wrote.
"We will adopt a child or children from the foster care system," said another.
"To start an organization that helps and encourages the education and safety of children," said still another.
Some offered money. Many offered prayer. Others vowed to donate books or to read at city schools. A teacher said she would write the names of murdered children on her classroom wall. Ideas were as specific as tutoring at an elementary school and as intangible as wanting to "touch the hardened heart of an inner city teenager."
A child scrawled: "I will be a better friend."
Sometimes, that's all it takes.
While Hamill opened prayer notes, city police scrambled to get a handle on a spate of killings that undermines gains made in last year's murder count. More people have been killed this year in Baltimore than there are days of the week - 11 so far, six in East Baltimore, a confined patch of crumbling inner-city real estate that showed promise in 2008.
The addresses for the latest wave of bloodletting are all too familiar: one dead on Luzerne, another on Kenwood, two on Orleans, one on Webb Court, still another body sprawled at Eager and Bond.
Even the city's top cop noted, "These are streets that are very familiar to us."
At an emergency news conference yesterday, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III talked about moving cops and targeting corner grocery stores that tolerate drug dealers, and he announced six new murder arrests.
He said task forces are working in East Baltimore; late Wednesday and early yesterday, they raided homes and seized guns and drugs. They made 18 arrests using surveillance cameras and took a gun from a guy on Luzerne Avenue near where an earlier shooting took place.
The commissioner also noted that cops have seized 87 guns across the city this year, and he believes despite this latest spike that the city is going in the right direction. But commanders offered no clues on what has caused the latest surge, especially in East Baltimore - whether they are related, part of a drug spat or something else entirely.
On Sunday, Hamill will be back in church. Three more candles will be lighted for three more young victims of crime. At the same service, Hamill will oversee a baptism, a new life born into the church.
"It's quite a contrast," she said, still clutching slips of paper bearing the New Year's promises.
Talk with Peter Hermann about crime through the Baltimore Crime Beat blog at baltimoresun.com/crime