Church leaders to learn from US efforts to combat urban violence

By staff writers
September 12, 2007

Church leaders and communities facing situations of violence in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and New Orleans will share their experiences with an international team from different churches, who will visit the United States next week.

Their visit is the first of forty such trips to different countries over the next three years.

Including members from South Africa, Lebanon, Pakistan and Brazil the team members will learn from their peacemaking efforts addressing urban and gun violence as well as environmental racism and the Iraq war.

The visit of the group, which is called “Living Letters,” is part of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence, an initiative promoting peaceful alternatives to violence.

“The purpose of these Living Letters visits is to create real encounters through which churches worldwide become increasingly aware of their struggles and hopes and are able to encourage and strengthen each other,” says Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, a minister of the United Church of Christ (US) and the WCC president from the North American region.

As Rev. Dr William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. puts it: “Peacemaking and reconciliation includes building stronger relationships within and outside of the churches and the United States that are responsive to the changing dynamic landscape of Christendom and the unrelenting violence in our world.”

“By discussing and praying in small groups, sharing community meals and visiting homes and community centres, we hope the international ecumenical team visiting us will be able to get to the heartbeat of the peace work of the American churches,” adds Powell-Jackson.

The team includes a public health specialist, a theologian and a human rights lawyer, each of them bringing personal experiences of violence and peacemaking from their own societies].

In New York they will meet an Arabic Lutheran congregation and Muslim leaders from its neighbourhood. The group will focus on violence and peacemaking efforts in the post 9/11 context of immigration to the US, especially issues affecting Arab and Middle Eastern communities.

In the wake of a key Congress hearing and a presidential address on the future of the US engagement in Iraq, the Iraq war - largely opposed by the WCC member churches in the US - will be one of the issues discussed with federal legislators and students in Washington DC.

Urban violence will be the focus of a visit to Philadelphia, hosted by the Rev Shaw’s White Rock Baptist Church, which belongs to the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., the largest African-American denomination.

The WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence is a global church movement that strives to strengthen existing efforts and networks for overcoming violence, as well as to inspire the creation of new ones.

The Living Letters teams are part of what is expected to become a major worldwide mobilization of churches for peace that will culminate with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held in 2011.

Last August (2006), a Living Letters team visited churches in Sri Lanka who have been impacted by the ongoing conflict between the government and Tamil fighters.

About forty such teams are expected to visit different countries over the next three years.

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