By Tom Guelcher
The sixth annual “Gathering” of the Historic Peace Churches in Florida was held Jan. 31 at Bay Shore Mennonite Church in Sarasota. Organized by the Peace Coordinating Committee of the Historic Peace Churches, the day-long conference featured speakers who pursued their passion for peace in various ways.
The opening session featured retired sociology professor and outgoing clerk of the Fort Myers Meeting, Nancy Howell, and retired attorney Judy Alves, both of Fort Myers. They explained that when they had become aware of aggressive military recruiting going on in Lee County high schools, while the war raged in Iraq, they decided they could do something about it. Under the banner “Wage Peace Campaign” they began a four-year effort, which culminated in the county school board establishing a fair and uniform system of military recruiting in the schools that protected student and parental rights.
Danielle Flood, director of Communications for ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), gave a presentation on the work of the North Fort Myers-based Christian organization. ECHO equips people with agricultural resources and skills to reduce hunger and improve the lives of the poor in more than 165 countries. ECHO intern and 2013 Colorado University graduate, Steven Kluck, shared how his work at ECHO is a progression of God’s call to help those in need. Both encouraged Gathering attendees to tour the ECHO Global Farm and Tropical Fruit Nursery in North Fort Myers. Further information is available online at www.echonet.org .
Inspired by Howard Zinn’s book “A People’s History of American Empire,” Sarasota video production teacher Bob Gray used his spare time over a six-year period to produce his 2014 documentary “Making A Killing: From Crony Capitalism to Corporate Plutocracy.” Shown at the gathering, the film traces the history of America’s use of military and espionage forces to further enrich US corporate interests. Most telling was the writings and speeches of former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who confessed he was nothing more than “a high class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers.” Looking back over his 33-year military career of projecting American military might in several incursions and occupations, Butler expressed his realization that he had been “a gangster for capitalism.”
The conference concluded with a Historic Peace Churches panel presentation about peace concerns and individual involvement. The panel comprised Jerry Eller, Church of the Brethren Atlantic Southeast District Action Peace Team member; Alma Ovalle, Southeast Mennonite Conference Mennonite Women board member and Annual Conference Youth Coordinator; and Warren Hoskins, clerk of the Miami Friends Meeting Peace and Social Concerns Committee and clerk of the Southeastern Yearly Meeting Peace and Social Concerns Committee. All three spoke passionately about their concerns and actions to promote peace. It was an uplifting end to the day.
Nearly 60 Brethren, Mennonites, Quakers, and others were in attendance. Literature was provided by the Church of the Brethren Action for Peace Team, the Quakers, ECHO, and Wage Peace. Lunch was provided by Miller’s Dutch Kitchen.
The Peace Coordinating Committee of the Historic Peace Churches in Florida formed as a result of a meeting of interested parties in Jan. 2010 at Camp Ithiel. By means of education, advocacy, and cooperation it seeks to motivate individuals to support policies and embrace behaviors which will lead to a more peaceful world. Our efforts aim to reawaken the deep connection of unity within the human family and the recognition that humanity’s true interests lie in communities of fellowship and harmony. The foundation of our work rests upon God’s love and the path of peace upon which Jesus walked.
-- Tom Guelcher is facilitator of the Peace Coordinating Committee of the Historic Peace Churches in Florida.