On Nov. 17-18, more than 100 youth gathered for an event, “Packing the Peace of Christ,” organized by Anabaptist pastors and youth leaders to “sound the call to Jesus’ disciples to work for peace in Philadelphia.”
Anabaptist pastors and youth leaders organized the workshop in response to the city’s increase in gun violence, with a grant from Mennonite Central Committee, Philadelphia. As of this workshop, 359 homicides have occurred, mostly committed with hand guns. The workshop posed the question, “In this context how can we bear witness to Christ, the Prince of Peace?”
Participating denominations included Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Brethren in Christ. About half of the 28 urban Anabaptist congregations and ministries in the greater Philadelphia region took active part in planning and participating in the workshop, including Germantown Church of the Brethren and its pastor, Richard Kyerematen. The workshop was held at Philadelphia Mennonite High School.
A Friday evening coffee shop began with uplifting worship music by the (Indonesian) Philadelphia Praise Center. Then Christian rap artist Cruz Cordero and Yvonne Platts of Philadelphia Ministry Partnership emceed a youth competition for creative alternatives to violence through the arts–essays, visual arts, and rap or spoken word. Conrad Moore, a Philly son and Damascus Road Anti-Racism trainer, led a participative teaching activity called “Forum Theater” to practice peacemaking skills.
Saturday was like boot camp for peace soldiers of Christ. Participants chose two of five peacemaking workshops: “Akido,” self-defense without doing harm; “The Big Bang,” the two sides of the heated debate on hand gun laws in Pennsylvania led by Sarah Thompson of Mennonite Central Committee, D.C., and Pennsylvania State Representative John Myers; “Conflict Resolution in a Christian Perspective,” led by Barbara Moses, principal of the high school, who helped participants identify their personal “anger triggers”; “The Hip-Hop Generation–What’s beef” (i.e., “What’s the conflict”), led by Cruz Cordero, who analyzed secular rap messages about dealing with conflict; “Violence: an American Problem,” led by Conrad Moore who analyzed the violent history of the United States and concluded, “Violence is not a problem limited to urban youth–it is a national problem.”
Arbutus Sider prepared a letter for participants to sign, addressed to rural and suburban Anabaptist congregations in Southeast Pennsylvania asking for support in pressing for more effective hand gun legislation.
For the grand finale, four local Christian rap artists treated participants to a showcase of their amazing gift of language to call people to walk in the light of Christ.
So ended “Packing the Peace of Christ,” sounding the call to Jesus’ disciples to work for peace in Philadelphia. The call has been sounded. Pray that the call may bear fruit in the lives of those who heard it.
–This article was contributed by Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, and written by Shannon Burgess, a senior at Philadelphia’s Central High School and a member of Second Mennonite Church.