US churches meet to explore new paths to peace

By staff writers
12 May 2008

Is it possible for a broken church to act as an agent for healing in a divided society? A gathering of people from peace church denominations in the United States has met to explore the practical and ecclesial issues.

The conference of Church of the Brethren and Mennonite participants met in Washington DC last month. "Bridging Divides: Uniting the Church for Peacemaking" was held at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, hosted by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and the Anabaptist Peace Center.

Speakers and participants discussed how to interact with those who are miles away politically, but sit next to us in worship every Sunday. Is it possible to find common ground yet remain the prophetic voice in society?

Main speakers included Celia Cook-Huffman, the W. Clay and Kathryn H. Burkholder Professor of Conflict Resolution at Juniata College in Huntingdon Pennsylvania and Nate Yoder, associate professor of church history and director of the master of arts in religion programme at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, speaking on the topic, "Sources of Our Common Faith."

Worship featured Myron Augsburger, professor and president emeritus at Eastern Mennonite University. "For me, the deeper convictions for peace find their base in the Lordship of Christ, in his teachings and his mission of a crosscultural and global extension of his kingdom," Augsburger said, in a message in which he proposed the need for an ecumenical association of people committed to nonviolence.

A plenary session on the subject, "Mending the Broken Body of Christ," was led by Chris Bowman, pastor of Oakton (Virginia) Church of the Brethren and a past moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, and Michelle Armster, co-director of Mennonite Central Committee's Office on Justice and Peacebuilding.

A closing session on "Christians Engaging the World" was led by Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, and Steve Brown, minister and director of care ministry at Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Virginia, a Mennonite church.

The hope is that the event can continue annually. When asked why he attended, Jerry O'Donnell, a Brethren Volunteer Service worker for the Church of the Brethren's workcamp ministry, said, "I came to this conference to learn more about our struggles - both as a church and part of the Anabaptist movement - hoping to learn how we can peacefully resolve our internal divisions.

"I learned, simply, that we have taken the first step in mending the broken body of Christ by coming together in his name, committed to another way of living," O'Donnell said.

He added: "Peace for far too long has solely been seen as the ends or the goal - a sort of distant prize. I think it is high time that we restore our faith in peace as the means."

In Britain the London Mennonite Centre has a well established Bridge Builders programme, promoting conflict resolution and transformation techniques and ideas to Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds.

For more information on Bridge Builders go to: http://www.menno.org.uk/bridgebuilders

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