“As faithful disciples of the Lord of peace, we must constantly pursue and persistently proclaim alternative ways that reject violence and war. Human conflict may well be inevitable in our world; but war and violence are not.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew shared this message of peace at a Sunday ecumenical prayer service and celebration in Kingston, Jamaica, for the participants of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC).
Over the past four days, some 1,000 convocation participants have been exploring peace in the community, peace with the earth, peace in the marketplace, and peace among the peoples.
The IEPC is co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) and the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC). The convocation is being held on the grounds of the University of the West Indies.
The IEPC participants, who come from more than 100 churches around the world, are completing their work against a global backdrop of unprecedented challenges to peace, Bartholomew said in his video-recorded message.
“First, never before has it been possible for one group of human beings to eradicate as many people simultaneously; second, never before has humanity been in a position to destroy so much of the planet environmentally,” Bartholomew said, acknowledging the precipice humankind stands on.
As the convocation participants have been pondering the tension and ties between the concepts of peace and justice, the patriarch stated that most peacemaking efforts fail because we are unwilling to forgo established ways of wasting and wanting.
“In peacemaking, then, it is critical that we perceive the impact of our practices on other people (especially the poor) as well as on the environment,” he said. “This is precisely why there cannot be peace without justice.”
Despite the growing knowledge at the IEPC of the monumental obstacles blocking the path to peace, songs performed by local Jamaican musicians ushered in a mood of celebration during the service.
The ecumenical service offered the opportunity for the participants to join as one voice, both in their praise to God and their hope for the church to be united in peacemaking.
The Rev Dr Ralph Hoyte, of the United Church in Jamaica, who was officiating the praise service with Dr Oluwakemi Linda Banks who is president of the Caribbean Conference of Churches, surveyed the congregants after the entrance song, and urged them to sing the refrain once again. He politely invited them to lighten up.
“This time,” he said, “move your foot.”
Just one foot, he said. And they did, some tapping a toe, others hesitantly breaking into a slight sway, many finally dancing to the beat of steel drums played by the Bethel Steel Orchestra.
“When you are in Jamaica, you don't celebrate with just your voice,” he said. “Move your foot. Move your body.”
Later the University Singers presented more classical choral music composed by the famed Jamaican composer Noel Dexter.
After celebrating peace for children, women, men and youth, the congregants heard a message from the Rev Dr Burchell K. Taylor, vice-president of the Baptist World Alliance.
Burchell preached on the Gospel of Mark 4:35 in which Jesus and his disciples leave a crowd and cross over the wind-swept waters. He portrayed the water in the passage as a troubled border that the disciples must cross in order to spread their message.
“Life is sharply and simply filled with borders, with boundaries and with frontiers that divide people, making them strangers and aliens,” he said. “Associated with this are nurtured and cultivated discriminations, mistrust and hostilities.”
Restoring peace in the world, he said, will depend upon peacemakers who are willing to “cross over” borders, or transform their relations based on a restored humanity signalled by a new order of God's rule in Jesus Christ.
“These borders – legal, racial, national, ethnic, social, economic, cultural, gender, political and religious – are assigned values to define and identify those who are superior and those who are inferior, those who are entitled to be dominant and those who are predetermined to be dependent, those who are chosen to be at the centre, and those who naturally belong to the margins.”
As IEPC congregants joined hands and sang, “We Shall Live in Peace” to the tune of the United States civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” they vowed to become living witnesses – within their families, communities and the world – to a new order of peace.
Burchell urged them to meet the challenges waiting for them in their home countries:
“Cross over, agents of peace,” he said.
The IEPC opened on Wednesday 18 May and concludes on 25 May.
* IEPC resources page: www.protestantnews.eu/europe/8242
* Live web streaming: www.overcomingviolence.org/
* An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace: www.overcomingviolence.org/en/resources-dov/wcc-resources/documents/decl...
* All Ekklesia's material on IEPC: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ipec
* Twitter (www.twitter.com) hash-tags: #iepc #peace
Ekklesia is running stories from journalist and regular contributor Stephen Brown, as well as official reports from the WCC and other commentary.