By June Galle Krehbiel for Mennonite Church USA
Mennonite Church USA and other historic peace churches are inviting U.S. Christian leaders to participate in Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace, Jan. 13 to 17 in Philadelphia, Pa.
Mennonite Church USA, the Church of the Brethren and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are co-sponsoring this peace gathering. All U.S. member churches that are part of Mennonite World Conference, including Conservative Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ, as well as other Anabaptist groups have been invited to send representatives. Franconia Conference Director of Congregational Resourcing and Equipping, Ertell Whigham and Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center will represent Franconia Conference at this gathering. Siahaan attended a similar gathering held in Indonesia last year.
“The Philadelphia gathering is for Christian leaders to discern God’s leading regarding our witness for peace during a time of escalating violence,” says J. Fred Kauffman, who works for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast and represents Mennonite Church USA on the peace gathering’s executive committee.
The initial vision for this event came from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting which invited Brethren and Mennonites to co-sponsor the gathering. The stated purpose is “strengthening our witness and work for peace in the world by inspiring hope, raising voices, taking action.”
Planners expect around 600 registrants, half of them from the three sponsoring denominations. The other 300 will represent various Christian traditions. Those invited include member bodies of the National Council of Churches, other denominations with membership over 100,000 as well as denominational peace fellowships and several ecumenical peace/justice organizations.
The gathering will include morning worship, plenary sessions, panel discussions, workshops and small groups as well as written summaries of the meetings’ common concerns.
“Pray that, as Christians from many backgrounds and persuasions meet, we indeed hear Jesus’ call to peacemaking. We need to find public ways to speak to our time and challenge the idolatry of nation-worship and its violence,” Kauffman says. “My personal hope is that participants will be open to the movement of God’s Spirit, lift up Jesus as Savior and Lord and issue a ringing call for local and global peacemaking to the church in the United States.”
The late Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision for peace lies at the heart of the mid-January gathering. The national holiday on Jan. 19, 2009, marks King’s birth and commemorates his role as spokesperson for the nonviolent civil rights movement. King colleague and historian Vincent Harding from Denver, Colo., who worked with his wife, Rosemarie, in representing the Mennonite church in the civil rights movement, will serve as elder for the gathering.
Registrants will gather Saturday, Jan. 17, to worship in a public place with local congregations and participate in a peace action to speak out against handgun violence. Organizing the Saturday public witness is Church of God in Christ leader Elisha Morris of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network.
“Mennonites have brought to the planning process a passion to address not only international peace but also peace on the streets,” Kauffman says. “We live in the midst of fear and violence in our nation and our own communities. Christ calls us to confront this culture of violence with the peace that he promised, a peace that is not like the ‘peace’ of this world.”
Besides Kauffman, Mennonites on committees to plan the gathering include: Michelle Armster of Conciliation Services; Bertha Beachy of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind.; Drick Boyd and Andy Peifer of West Philadelphia (Pa.) Mennonite Fellowship; Leo Hartshorn of Mennonite Mission Network; Susan Mark Landis, Mennonite Church USA Peace Advocate; Hubert Schwartzendruber of Plains Mennonite Church, Hatfield, Pa.; and Ruth Wenger of North Bronx (N.Y.) Mennonite Church.