Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Brethren, Mennonites meet on uniting the church for peacemaking.

Is it possible for a broken church to heal a divided society? A conference of people of Church of the Brethren and Mennonite backgrounds met in Washington, D.C., on April 11-12 to discuss this question. "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. Can we find common ground yet remain the prophetic voice in society?

An opening session on "Sources of Our Common Faith" was led by Celia Cook-Huffman, the W. Clay and Kathryn H. Burkholder Professor of Conflict Resolution at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., and Nate Yoder, associate professor of church history and director of the master of arts in religion program at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Yoder discussed the idea that the church is empowered to discern according to criteria in the Lord's prayer, that God's kingdom come and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. When discussing sources of common faith between Mennonites and Brethren, the peace position is the main link, he said. Historically, both churches have been very strong on the peace position, but he asked, how is it playing out today? Cook-Huffman stressed history, rituals, faith, and community. The Brethren tradition of footwashing holds special significance, as does our shared story. She also emphasized getting conflict out in the open, talking about it, and resolving it peacefully.

Friday night's 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. He talked about the need for an ecumenical association of people committed to nonviolence. The members of the church are citizens of the state and may properly challenge the state's just war theory, as well as fellow Christians who hold to this view, he said.

A plenary on "Mending the Broken Body of Christ" was led by Chris Bowman, pastor of Oakton (Va.) Church of the Brethren and a past moderator of Annual Conference, and Michelle Armster, codirector of Mennonite Central Committee's Office on Justice and Peacebuilding. Bowman spoke about shifting circles of loyalty. The circle for Christians used to be the church, but now people have many different circles or spheres of influence, and other circles often do not interact much with the church, he said. He talked about pastoring as redrawing the circle, creating a family house where diversity can live.

A final 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, Va., a Mennonite church. Jones stressed the importance of acting on matters of conscience, finding what makes you passionate and then being a strong advocate for that issue. Brown pushed the church to get out and minister to the community. He also invited people to openly talk about issues of racism, poverty, and violence. "We are called to be risk-takers, to move beyond the four walls of the church building," he said.

The conference was a success in the minds of those who attended, and the hope is that it can continue annually. When asked why he attended, Jerry O'Donnell, a Brethren Volunteer Service worker, 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. "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."

--Rianna Barrett is a legislative associate at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

Source: 5/07/2008 Newsline

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