How to Become a Just Peace Church: Super Saturday

How to Become a Just Peace Church: Super Saturday

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by Rev. Dr. Robert Loesch
 
Greetings to you in the name of the God of Light and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  In their names, I invite you and your local church to become a Just Peace Church in 2020. 
 
I invite you to register for the Super Saturday workshops on Saturday, March 14  in Wilbraham. Many of the workshops deal with Justice and Witness  issues.  I will be presenting a workshop “How To Become a Just Peace Church":  Learn the process for your local congregation to become a Just Peace Church and to join the UCC Just Peace Network. We will share the steps and resources that are available on the website: ucc.org,  under  the section “Advocate for Justice” and the link to “Just Peace.”
 
Since 1985, the Just Peace Pronouncement at General Synod has inspired a grassroots movement of UCC congregations to corporately name and boldly proclaim a public identity as a justice-doing, peace-seeking church. Grounded in UCC polity and covenantal theology, the position focusses attention on alleviating injustice of all types using non-violence and calls us to offer the message, based in the hope of reconciliation in Jesus, that “peace is possible.”

The national Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC is committed to a revitalization of the Just Peace Church movement and to empowering congregations to create a stronger justice and peace witness. In 2015, the 30th General Synod held in Cleveland, Ohio, marked the UCC’s 30th anniversary as a Just Peace Church and called for a renewal of the UCC’s Just Peace witness. At that time, as a pastor and delegate from a UCC congregation in the New York Conference, I supported and voted for this action at the 2015 General Synod.

In 2017, while serving as the Sabbatical Supply Senior Pastor of the Storrs Congregational Church in Storrs, CT, I helped them to become a Just Peace Church.  During the 2017-2019, I have spoken in person to eight United Church of Christ congregations within the SNEUCC  about becoming a Just Peace Church.
 
Wanting to start out on a solid base of principles, delegates of the soon-to-be Southern New England Conference voted in favor of a set of Foundational Justice Commitments at the Annual Meeting on Nov. 1, 2019.
“At the heart of our Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ is a call to live out the love and justice of Jesus,” said Conference President Rev. Corey Sanderson. “And as Christ’s disciples, we are tasked with embodying and incarnating God’s love and justice to help co-create God’s dominion here on earth.”
“Drawing on the compassion and the wisdom and the prophetic actions of our three historic state conferences, the Southern New England Conference seeks to carry forward and state the public witness and calls to action that have brought us to this place today,” he said. “These are both the established commitments of our three state Conferences and the aspirational goals to which we are always striving.”

Delegates took their time on the statement, which had been recommended by the new Conference Board, strengthening the language around climate work, and adding language on immigrants, sexism and violence against women, and on being a multi-cultural, multi-racial church.

The final statement as voted reads:
We believe that it is our call to “live the love and justice of Jesus.” Based on both the established commitments of our three historic Conferences and our aspirational priorities as a new Conference, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, at its first Annual Meeting on November 2, 2019, pledges in covenant:
  • To be an Open and Affirming Conference;
  • To be a Just Peace Conference;
  • To be an Accessible to All Conference;
  • To be an Immigrant Welcoming Conference;
  • To work for climate justice and the restoration of God’s creation on which all life depends;
  • To advocate for economic and restorative justice;
  • To be a multi-cultural multi-racial church working to eradicate racism in all of its forms, both within the church and in the structures of our society and world;
  • To advance immigrant justice and human rights for all people;
  • To oppose all forms of sexism and violence against women, especially women of color.
We recognize that these are expressions of both identity and intention, and we commit to align our resources and our efforts with these priorities. We encourage our local churches and other covenant partners to do the same.
 
By this action reported above, our new Conference declares itself a Just Peace Conference. I believe that all of these Foundational Justice Commitments are integrally related to the concept of Just Peace. In effect each local church in Southern New England can take both approaches: to become a Just Peace Church and to align our local church resources and our efforts with these SNEUCC priorities.
 
Many years before the action of the Southern New England Conference, Foster Memorial Church, UCC, in Springfield, MA had begun several activities related to several of these priorities. Recently, as a member of Foster Memorial Church in Springfield, MA,  I facilitated our local church to become a Just Peace church in January, 2019.   

A major feature article written by Cori Urban was published in August 2019 in The Republican, the daily metropolitan paper of Greater Springfield, MA. Read the article here.

Foster Church Became Just Peace Church      
Foster Memorial Church at our annual meeting in January 2019 voted to become a Just Peace Church and adopted this declarationFollowing the action by our local church, the Foster Church Just Peace team met monthly  to develop ways to implement the declaration and to deepen and widen our partnerships in the local and national community. Some of these partnerships have included Bread for the World, Campaign NonViolence of Greater Springfield, CROP Walk for Hunger, Habitat for Humanity, Hampden Association of the UCC Interfaith Council of Greater Springfield, Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, Jewish Community Center, Lights for Liberty March For Our Lives,  Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Open Pantry,  Rebecca Johnson School, Small Talk, United Nations and Youth for Action.(alphabetical order, partial list)
 
The activities with our partners have included several non-violent walks, prayer vigils, rallies, educational events and worship experiences in the Springfield, MA  metropolitan area. Our team and its meetings are open to any church member, with a core group of fifteen members, and all are welcome to the events and programs. For example, we participated in interfaith programs at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Greater Springfield, with speakers about peace, justice and unity to counter hate crimes and all forms of discrimination, and in Iftar Breaking the Ramadan Fast programs. We also participated in the annual International Day of Prayer in September. During our Sunday morning prayers, members often offer prayers  for community, national and global concerns, along with personal concerns about individual members and friends of the church. 

Our JP team discussed the importance of following the separation of church and state in our activities. We understand that it is appropriate for a church and its leaders to act upon issues, values and public policies but inappropriate to support or oppose political or partisan candidates or parties. Following these limits, there is much for a Just Peace Church to say and do. On the ucc.org website with the links to Advocate for Justice and Understanding the issues, here are some of the categories with many resources available on-line:   Children/education, economic justice, global concerns, human sexuality, racial justice, worker  justice, civil and human rights, environment, health, peacemaking and women. 

Members of our JP team learned about Valarie Kaur and the Revolutionary Love Project . She was keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting of the Southern New England conferences in Worcester, November 1-2. Meeting  delegates were invited to sign the project’s purpose: “We declare our love for all who are in harm’s way; We declare love even for our opponents; We declare love for ourselves.” 

This Lent, our local JP team will provide a four-week  Conversation: Exploring White Fragility and our January annual meeting included a soup lunch to benefit the White Helmets volunteer organization in Syria. We are planning to support a family from Sudan and other refugees through New Americans program of Jewish Family Services, the local refugee resettlement agency. We plan to participate with the annual Earth Day Festival sponsored by the Springfield Quadrangle and its Science Museum.    

For further information about becoming a Just Peace Church, please contact me: rkloesch@aol.com, (518) 674-8204, or  Rev. Dr. Robert Loesch, 385 Worthington Street, Unit 3E,Springfield, MA 01103. UCC resources may be found here.

As we enter the season of Lent, may you reflect on the meaning of the life and passion of Jesus Christ and how you can continue to serve Him. 

Peace,
Robert Loesch
Foster Memorial Church, Springfield, MA
 

Author

robert loesch.jpg
Rev. Dr. Robert Loesch

Rev. Dr. Robert Loesch is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ.

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