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Reflections on Church and Peace Conference May 2011

Church and Peace is a network of faith communities based in Europe, that are committed to non-violent discipleship. It offers meeting opportunities, a space for reflection, a forum for dialogue, and a catalyst for co-ordinating practical action. Above all, it aims to reclaim the Gospel of a God of peace, justice and reconciliation, incarnated in the diversity of our human world.

This year’s AGM and Conference, on the theme taken from Jeremiah 11:4 You will be my people and I will be your God was held at L’Arche Community of St. Antoine in France. This community is one of those established by Lanza del Vasto, a Sicilian follower of Gandhi who in the 1940s and 50s started a number of communities pledged to live together and practice non-violence.

Representatives of the traditional Peace Churches – Quakers, Mennonites and the Church of the Brethrens, of intentional communities dedicated to peace, and individuals from more mainstream churches, as well as those with personal membership of Church and Peace, gathered together and heard personal testimonies from some on What is my experience? What has led me here today? I represented FWCC-EMES, and gave the sermon during Sunday worship on the text from Ephesians 2 Christ is our Peace – see
My address to Church and Peace 2011 (English). (This will be available in French, German and Serbo-Croat shortly).

A couple from the Darvell community in England talked about the challenge of giving up everything to live in community, and how the material things were the easiest to let go of. It was much harder to give up one’s opinions, even one’s theology. And community per se is not the aim, but it is the fruit of a daily effort to surrender one’s life to God, and to each other.

Another couple who had lived at L’Arche community for 30 years and brought up 4 children there talked about spiritual accompaniment based in Scripture. They belonged to the Fraternity of St. Mark, a fellowship for the memorization of sacred texts. They led a biblical exploration on the theme which was punctuated by the chanting of relevant biblical passages, which included Exodus 6, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the beginning of the Gospel of Mark with its references to Isaiah 40. The message I took from this fascinating bible study was a meditation on the meaning of being a chosen people – being a priestly community that mediates between God and humanity. A responsibility that the ancient Hebrews delegated to Moses, Aaron and the priests, because it was too risky to be personally responsible for the task. Through the life and witness of Jesus we learn that personal commitment to God – as a community as well as an individual – is the demand of the New Covenant, God’s renewed pledge to humanity. When our lives are rooted and open, when our actions are in harmony with the Word of God written on our hearts, we are a living witness to the living God.

A Sister from the community of Grandchamp spoke movingly about her journey from being born and brought up in a divided Germany, experiencing the pain and fear of crossing the border between East and West Germany, and seeing tanks in the streets of her home town, to being called to live in Switzerland, in a community dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

A Serbian woman read a message from a Kosovan pastor, who had been denied a visa to travel to France, who told his own story of trauma as he witnessed, as a 13 year old, his father being killed by Serbian troupes, and how the hatred he felt ruled his life, until his new-found faith challenged him to let go of the hate for the sake of Christ, and how he had felt called to a ministry of reconciliation with the Serbian people. Yet this moving story caused pain to other Serbian people present, reminding us all of the deep wounds that war leaves even in those who dedicate their lives to rebuilding trust and relationships.

An imagined dialogue between French Reformed Pastor and pacifist Jean Lasserre and Nazi-resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer (they had met in New York in the 1930s and influenced each other’s theology) called for a new Reformation in the church, one based on the commandment of love.

In a workshop on Resisting Mammon and Mars I discovered that the original meaning of the Greek word for “resist”, which was commonly used in military and legal contexts, was “retaliate”. Therefore the sentence in Matthew 5:39 commonly translated as Do not resist evil is more properly translated Do not retaliate.

The Conference sent Church and Peace’s Message to IEPC, calling for a re-think on armed intervention under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

Here is the Concluding message from the Convocation.

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