As I write this newsletter, tomorrow (September 20) is designated the International Day of Peace. Several years ago, Diane and I attended a Peace Making Conference at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. The conference was called “Remembering Peace: Still the Believers’ Calling”.
With the apparently increasing tensions between races and nations, cultures and religions, today, perhaps more than ever, peace is still the most essential aspect of our discipleship to Jesus Christ.
When the Risen Lord appeared to his traumatized disciples, his first words to them were: “Peace be with you.” We have an opportunity to use this period of time marked by the bookends of International Day of Peace and the Peace and Global Witness Offering on World Communion Sunday (October 1st) – known in our denomination as the Season of Peace – to focus on what it means to engender peace in our world: from the development a sense of personal peace, to promoting peace in our relationships, and finally by addressing global peace as a challenge to the local church.
This year represents the 37th year anniversary of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Peacemaking Program; a program that has long been associated with World [Wide] Communion. Indeed, the tradition of World Communion Sunday itself began in 1934 with the Rev. Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr who at the time was minister at Shadyside Presbyterian Church (still one of our denomination’s larger, most historic churches) in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Rev. Dr. Kerr’s initial vision for World Communion was to bring churches together in the service of Christian unity (and ecumenism) in a way that every Christian might be inspired and informed concerning the global significance of the Church of Jesus Christ, as well as the importance of our interconnectedness with one another worldwide. World Communion was subsequently adopted throughout the U. S. Presbyterian Church in 1936, and has since spread to other denominations around the world.
In 1980, the PCUSA General Assembly Commission drafted the original document, Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling (which can be accessed on the PCUSA.org website); and peacemaking
and World Communion have been tied together ever since.
Churches who subsequently wish to be partners in the peacemaking covenant sign the Commitment to Peacemaking, which reads:
God’s Covenant with creation is given as grace and peace. Peace (Shalom) is the wholeness and community in which human beings are meant to live. Although all people are sinners, God continually renews the Covenant through our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s peace heals, comforts, strengthens, and frees.
Responding to this Good News, the church goes into the world to point to and to become a part of God’s peacegiving. God’s peace is offered wherever there is brokenness—in individual lives, families, congregations, communities, nations, and creation. In God’s Covenant, the world and the church experience wholeness, security, and justice.
The General Assembly has affirmed in “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling” that God’s peacegiving in a broken and insecure world is central to the message of the gospel. Therefore people of faith engage in peacemaking, not as a peripheral activity, but as an integral part of their congregational life and mission.
Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling has become one of the primary core values of the Presbyterian Church, USA, and the Commitment to Peacemaking is central to the identity of its member congregations.
On World Communion Sunday, October 1st, the Peace & Global Witness Offering will be received. The proceeds from this offering are used to address systems of injustice across the world. Individual congregations are encouraged to use 25% of the Offering to connect with the global witness of Christ’s peace. Mid councils (Presbyteries and Synods) retain an additional 25% for ministries of peace and reconciliation. The remaining 50% is used by the Presbyterian Mission Agency to advocate for peace and justice in cultures of violence – including our own – through collaborative projects of education and Christian witness. This year, it is suggested that the local and/or mid council portion of the Offering be used to support Freedom Rising, a pilot program designed to address the plight of African-American males, to be initiated in five American cities: New York, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Charlotte and Baltimore. The programs will respond to the needs for support, development and healing to help African-American men thrive in their communities.
During this Season of Peace let us reflect on the above Commitment to Peacemaking as a primer to our continued explorations in peace, both as we move into this time of stewardship and thanksgiving, and then also as a foundation for the celebration of Advent, when we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace into our lives anew.
We invite each one of you to join with the congregation of First Presbyterian Church, as together we seek to become more blessed peacemakers as God’s children in the world.