Churches commit to peace action as historic convocation closes

By staff writers
25 May 2011

Participants at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) have released a message expressing their unified experience of a week-long exploration of a just peace.

Their commitment is to navigate a path forward in implementing what they have discussed and discovered, as they return to their homes and churches across the world.

Attempting to take into account each other's contexts and histories, IEPC participants were unified in their aspiration that war should become illegal and that peace is central in all religious traditions.

The message states: “With partners of other faiths, we have recognised that peace is a core value in all religions, and the promise of peace extends to all people regardless of their traditions and commitments. Through intensified inter-religious dialogue we seek common ground with all world religions.”

The participants acknowledged that each church and each religion brings with it a different standpoint from which to begin walking toward a just peace. Some begin from a standpoint of personal conversion and morality. Others stress the need to focus on mutual support and correction within the body of Christ, while still others encourage churches' commitment to broad social movements and the public witness of the church.

“Each approach has merit,” the message, which was crafted by a seven-member message committee chaired by Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, states, “they are not mutually exclusive. In fact they belong inseparably together. Even in our diversity we can speak with one voice.”

Abrahams said he trusts that IEPC participants will find their voices in the message. “In many ways, this convocation is a milestone in the march toward just peace,” he said. “The words 'reaping' and 'harvesting' have been intrinsic to the life of this convocation. This message is to ourselves, to our churches and related organisations, and to the world that is bruised and broken and that God so loves.”

The message also acknowledged that the church has often obstructed the path toward just peace. “We realise that Christians have often been complicit in systems of violence, injustice, militarism, racism, casteism, intolerance and discrimination. We ask God to forgive our sins, and to transform us as agents of righteousness and advocates of Just Peace.”

The message continued to address the four themes of the convocation: peace in the community, peace with the earth, peace in the marketplace, and peace among the peoples, allowing for specific emphasis on each theme and how they complement to the ethical and theological approach to the pursuit of Just Peace.

The IEPC message captures only part of a truly historic event, said the Rev Dr Walter Altmann, Moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee, as he received the IEPC message on behalf of the WCC.

“You take with you much more than a text; you take with you a profound ecumenical experience,” he said. “The complexity of the issues we have addressed will certainly require further work, reflection and action.”

The ending of WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence is also a new beginning, he added. “As we return, each of us becomes a living message for the IECP,” he said.

More than 60 of some 1,000 IEPC participants commented on a draft message, and their input was taken into account as the final message was crafted.

Moderating the comments was Metropolitan Prof Dr Gennadios of Sassima of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Vice-Moderator of the WCC Central Committee. “This final text belongs to you, and to us, and to all of us,” he said, “and this will be spread out around the world by the closing of this convocation.”

The IEPC participants responded to a reading of their final message with a standing ovation. The General Secretary of the WCC, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed his pride to the IEPC participants who challenged themselves and each other to reach new levels of understanding and determination.

“We are called to be one in our witness,” he said. “We also see that the way to just peace has united us. This is a gift for all of us and we shall use it well. This week has brought many signs of your commitment. Sometimes we need to struggle. Sometimes we need to feel it isn't that easy.”

The participation of some 95 youth in the IEPC was also acknowledged during the closing of the event. Sanna Eriksson, representing the Church of Sweden, spoke on behalf of the young IEPC participants who planned activities and had highly visible participation throughout the convocation.

“We rejoice that young people participated in this meeting in a wide variety of roles,” she said. “We thank those churches and organisations who sent young people as their representatives.”

The IEPC message also expressed profound gratefulness to its hosts in Jamaica and the entire Caribbean region.

The Rev Gary Harriott, General Secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches, said that the entire Caribbean region was both proud and excited to host the IEPC in Jamaica. “It was far more than planning an event, as some very important relationships were established, which we hope will remain intact even after IEPC,” he said.

The final message may be complete but the work of the IEPC is only beginning, said Professor Dr Fernando Enns, a Mennonite, who was moderator of the preparatory committee for the IEPC.

“We are only beginning to grasp the possibilities we have when we really respect one another. The church shall not speak to the marginalised; the church is where the marginalised are,” he said.

IEPC participants should celebrate their experience, he said, but should not rest satisfied. “Our journey must continue,” he said. “You and I, we shall hold each other accountable. The church is either accepting the call to just peace or it is not the church at all.”

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The IEPC opened on Wednesday 18 May and concluded 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.

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