One such occasion was a conversation with Stan Noffsinger, the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, USA. I had met Stan last July, through mutual friends, at the Peace among the People’s conference and again in November at the NCC-USA meeting in New Orleans.
At the IEPC, we sat down to talk one evening while he was preparing to deliver a report the next morning on the activities of the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren) during the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV)
Stan remarked (not in exact words, but from my memory), “I’ve been working on this theory that the Historic Peace Churches need to give up their title as the ‘Historic’ peace churches and join with other faith communities as the ‘Living Peace Churches.’”
“Would we then lose our particularity? Would we lose our special status among other faith traditions that would otherwise disregard us?” I asked.
Stan thought for a moment and replied, “No, the Historic Peace Churches have experiences, resources, and wisdom that places us in the middle, in the leadership of this new concept of Living Peace Church. Our particularity remains in our history, that can’t be forgotten, but we are really doing ourselves a disservice if we continue to exclude others.”
“Hmm…” I told Stan, “I’ll have to think about it for a while.”
And in fact Stan did stand up in the IEPC and challenge all of us with such a theory. What would it mean for the Historic Peace Churches to let go our title and join others in the creation of a Living Peace Church? What would it mean? How would it look?
His challenge has stayed with me throughout the IEPC especially as I met and befriended leaders and peace builders from a variety of Christian traditions: Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist… the list continues. The more people I met and the more ideas I heard the more I was convinced that a Living Peace Church is not only necessary but the building blocks are already a reality. ‘All we need to do’ is come together in conversations and work together.
In my recently completed thesis, I talk in one chapter about different parts of inter-religious dialogue. I break the process down into three parts: experiencing the other, sharing sacred scripture study or theological exploration, and living as a community in everyday life.
The IEPC was a chance to meet the other. I discovered vibrant passionate people with whom I hope to work with in the future. I also discovered a split in focus among the participants. Even within the Historic Peace Church meetings there were people incredibly concerned with documents that the World Council of Churches (WCC) was developing and there were people passionately concerned with bringing these conversations of Just Peace to the streets.
I have to say that I’m in the later group and my youthful enthusiasm for public theology at the expense of perhaps some unwise comments about the dryness of documentation delivered me some critiques from the older members of the conference. However, in reflection of this experience and in weaving it with my thesis; I find that both the documentarians and the practical theologians are needed. We need the people writing the documents, developing the theology, and conversing on the academic level. We also need the people engaging others in dialogue, challenging the streets, uncovering the poets and keeping this Living Peace Church alive!
And so, one of the fruits of this thread, this Living Peace Church thread, is an idea to develop a multi-fold project that both develops theological dialogue on the academic level and theological dialogue on the streets. I’ll let you know how things unfold; as faith moves into action of the Living Peace Church, we as the Historic Peace Churches can’t be left behind.