Decade to overcome violence gathers momentum - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
March 30, 2005

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Decade to overcome violence gathers momentum


By Walt Wiltschek

Nearing its midpoint, the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) is being embraced around the globe.

The Decade, envisioned to harness the insights and potential of churches for reconciliation and peace, was launched in 2001 with a celebration in Potsdam, Germany. The movement sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) has gone on to spotlight a different part of the world each year: In 2004, the focus was the United States. This year, it is Asia.

Wherever the focus goes, those involved say they are finding enthusiasm and momentum for the effort. "The more people and churches find out about it, the more excited they get," says Rev. Dr Bernice Powell-Jackson, WCC president from the North American region and a spokesperson for the Decade during last year's US emphasis.

"Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. I think it's something that most people of faith are grappling with. When people realise they're part of a whole world of Christians working and praying for this, they become very empowered."

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia lifted up the Decade, which has become one of the council's most visible initiatives, during his address to the organization's central committee meeting in Geneva on 15 February. He said the DOV "has provided a framework for a growing number of churches around the world to address violence holistically in all its many forms, and develop creative ways to overcome violence."

The Decade's popularity may be due, in part, to the fact that it is not a WCC programme as such, but rather a central conduit through which to join the many peacemaking activities churches have already been pursuing and new ones that have begun.

Dr Fernando Enns, a central committee member from the Mennonite Church in Germany, says that this approach is consistent with the original vision for the Decade. It was Enns who, during the final stages of the WCC eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998, brought to the floor the motion that began the DOV.

"We dreamed of starting a movement of churches in fellowship to overcome violence. What you're hoping for and dreaming of is that churches will connect to it, and own it: Here's an ecumenical space opening up where we can work on this topic," Enns says.

Rev. Hansulrich Gerber, DOV coordinator for the WCC, affirms that vision. There is, he says, "a critical mass of transformative power in the churches and communities to overcome violence, and it's growing. We have energy and momentum."

In 2004, the Decade gave special attention to the United States, with the theme, "The power and promise of peace." Special activities kicked off with an event in New York early in the year, and progressed to a large culminating gathering in Atlanta in October. Eight "living letters" , people from around the world who could bring encouraging words about overcoming violence, were present for the Atlanta celebration.

Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., one of the historic black churches, helped to mobilize for the Atlanta event. "The local community was so excited to receive us," she says. "It was celebrative, informing, and engaging."

Some Atlanta activities were held at schools and colleges in the area to involve young people, and peacemaker awards were presented on behalf of the WCC. Martin Luther King III served as honorary chairman and was present for the culminating gathering.

Now the spotlight shifts to Asia, where Rev. Dr Ahn Jae Woong, general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), says the Decade will be very useful to the people of his region and "an opportunity to revitalise Asian wisdom on living together" .

Woong says that peacemaking resources have been distributed, and that even the theme of the 31 March - 6 April CCA 12th general assembly in Thailand emphasises the DOV: "Building Communities of Peace for All".

The greatest task now for the Decade is bringing other churches into the movement. "Among the WCC member churches, the Decade is very much embraced," Walker-Smith says. "They may already have been involved in peacemaking, but this has given them new energy to mobilise and work together instead of separately. Now the challenge is to encourage and allow so many others to come to the table."

Some plans for further steps are taking shape. Enns says a major DOV mid-term conference for Germany is in the works, while the Historic Peace Churches (the Mennonites, Friends, and Church of the Brethren) - who have already held two gatherings in Switzerland and Kenya - are planning to organize a third event, perhaps in Asia.

DOV-related activities will also be part of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism taking place in Athens in May. And a mid-term celebration will occur at the WCC ninth assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2006.

Last autumn for the first time, churches were encouraged to mark the UN-initiated International Day of Peace on 21 September with an International Day of Prayer for Peace. This Day of Prayer is intended to be "a good opportunity to join in prayer with faith communities all around the world, thus strengthening both the ecumenical and the inter-religious dimensions of our common work," Kobia told the WCC central committee.

Gerber, meanwhile, says he would love to hear from more churches who are already involved. "We need to get more stories to pass on," he says. "We could use more stories so that they can be heard more widely and more effectively."

Regardless of what the future holds, Enns says he is thrilled by what has happened so far. "Given that we started just four years ago, it's quite impressive. So many churches have joined in," he says. "It fills me with joy and gives me a lot of hope. We've seen beautiful developments in Africa, India, Tanzania, Ghana, Latin America - you can list so many places."

"It starts with being a light," he adds. "Even if it's a small light, if you put it on a hill people will notice."

Additional information on the Decade to Overcome Violence is available here

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