On November 18-19, the Church of the Brethren hosted the annual meeting of the Historic Peace Churches/Fellowship of Reconciliation Consultative Committee for a time of fellowship, mutual support and conversation on ecumenical engagement for peace and justice.
The Historic Peace Churches (HPC)/Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) Consultative Committee (“Committee” below) is a group of Friends, Brethren, Mennonites and representatives of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA. Members have historically come together to uphold the Gospel of peace through dialogue and advocacy in faith circles and support for appropriate interventions where nonviolent witness is needed.
Participants in this year’s meeting included Jay Wittmeyer representing Brethren, Mark Johnson and Sam Smith representing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dorothy Day and Sylvia Graves representing Friends, and Andre Gingerich Stoner and Timothy Seidel representing Mennonites.
Member updates included information on a Mennonite Central Committee campaign called “Fear Not: Seek Peace in our homes, communities and world,” an ongoing peace education curriculum in Quaker schools in Kenya, an FOR strategy for “Demilitarizing Life and Land”, and an opportunity for Brethren participation at a peace event in Assisi, Italy at the invitation of the Vatican for a day of reflection, dialogue and personal prayer.
A major agenda piece for these meetings was reviewing the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) that took place this past May in Kingston, Jamaica. The convocation’s focus was the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) that began in 2001. The IEPC celebrated the achievements of the DOV and encouraged individuals and churches to renew their commitment to nonviolence, peace and justice..
Several Committee members were present in Kingston and presented a workshop highlighting activities of Historic Peace Churches over the past decade, including a series of conferences on the evolving theology and practice of peace. Each of these conferences involved the participation of Mennonites, Quakers and members of the Church of the Brethren from different regions of the world. The conferences sought to help Historic Peace Churches in a particular region of the world dialogue with one another about theology in their context, and strengthen the global witness of the peace churches.
Committee members discussed follow up to the IEPC including congregational engagement with the “Ecumenical Call to Just Peace,” conversations on an HPC global forum, and preparations for the 2013WCC Busan Assembly. Members also discussed opportunities for ecumenical engagement on peace and justice in resources like the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States (NCCCUSA) 2010 study “Christian Understanding of War in an Age of Terror(ism).” The Committee has initial plans to organize a consultation for church leaders, theologians and peace practitioners that would examine peace church responses to genocide and severe violence.
Historic Peace Churches have worked together ever since coming to North America in the 17th Century (Mennonites and Friends) and 18th Century (Brethren). Formal cooperation occurred between the First and Second World Wars on legal recognition of conscientious objection and adequate provision for conscientious objectors.
For over forty years, this Committee has been a place for churches that hold confessionally to “the peace position” to meet, update and confer with each other on positions and initiatives relative to crucial issues of the day. The Committee has also facilitated a unified effort to engage the wider Christian community on issues related to the centrality of the Christian peace witness as this grows out of the Christian pacifist conviction. This has been especially frequent with the WCC and the NCCCUSA.
The Committee has also produced study documents and books such as A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People the World’s Renewal Has Begun (Herald Press, 1991), Transforming Violence: Linking Local and Global Peacemaking (Herald Press, 1998), and Ecumenical Engagement for Peace and Nonviolence(HPC/FOR Consultative Committee, 2006).
The Committee is looking to next fall for its 2012 annual meeting, considering opportunities to meet alongside a larger ecumenical peace gathering.
Timothy Seidel is director of Peace and Justice Ministries for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. and chairs the Historic Peace Churches/Fellowship of Reconciliation Consultative Committee.
Photo Courtesy of Sam Smith/ Heavy Light Productions: (left to right) Mark Johnson, Andre Gingerich Stoner, Jay Wittmeyer, Dorothy Day, Sylvia Graves, Timothy Seidel, and Sam Smith.