By Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred
The Christian Citizenship Seminar gathered 47 high school youth and advisors from Church of the Brethren congregations throughout the US, beginning on April 27 in New York City and ending in Washington, D.C., on May 2, focused on the theme “Creative Solutions to Violent Conflict Worldwide.” The event was led by five Church of the Brethren staff from the Youth and Young Adult Ministry and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.
Throughout the week, participants learned about how churches, governments, and non-governmental organizations can pro-actively build peace and defuse potential violence without resorting to military force. In between sessions about the military budget, unarmed civilian protection, and advocacy, participants visited the United Nations, explored New York City, and met with their members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
Youth lobbied their senators and representatives to support funding for unarmed civilian protection, a strategy for preventing violence by providing a protective, nonviolent presence to observe and accompany civilians living amid conflict. They also shared how their background as members of a historic peace church informed their desire to see less militarism and more efforts to build peace in US foreign policy. In many offices, preventing violence without the use of military force was a novel but welcome concept, and participants were pleasantly surprised that staff and legislators from varying parties and perspectives received their ideas and their presence with curiosity and enthusiasm.
For many of the participants, who hailed from 14 congregations in 12 states, this was their first time lobbying their members of Congress. Most walked away encouraged to continue engaging in advocacy for peace and other issues that inspire them. Christian Citizenship Seminar, which occurs every spring except for years when National Youth Conference is held, exists for just such a purpose: to empower and inspire Church of the Brethren youth to see and speak on issues of peace and justice through the lens of their faith.
-- Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred is serving as the Youth and Young Adult Ministry assistant through Brethren Volunteer Service.