Church of the Brethren Leaders Address World Council of Churches US Conference

(Dec. 8, 2008) — “Making Peace: Claiming God’s Promise” was the banner under which the US Conference for the World Council of Churches (WCC) gathered in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2-4 for its annual meeting. The meeting engaged in conversations about topics ranging from racial reconciliation to care for creation. One focus was creating a message that could be shared with US President-Elect Barack Obama with regard to the passions of the church and a call to “claim God’s peace.”

Church of the Brethren pastors and members were leaders for the opening worship service, which was held in the peace church tradition. The service was at the Omni Shore Hotel in conjunction with the Progressive Baptist Convention. Leading the service was Jeff Carter, pastor of Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren and the Brethren representative to the board of the US Conference of the WCC. Joining Carter in worship leadership were pastor Nancy Fitzgerald of Arlington (Va.) Church of the Brethren and John Shafer of Oakton Church of the Brethren in Vienna, Va. Also participating were Ilana Naylor of Manassas Church of the Brethren, Rich Meyer of Benton Mennonite Church, Ann Riggs of the Society of Friends, Jordan Blevins of Westminister (Md.) Church of the Brethren, and Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

Carter also was one of those in a panel discussion held during the conference around the concern, “What message does the church have to share to the new administration of our nation?” In his remarks, Carter expressed as the highest concern for the Brethren tradition that of ending the Iraq war. His message to President-Elect Obama would be “to think globally, work collaboratively, and act morally,” he said. “To be truthful and transparent in all actions, and to hold close to his faith convictions. Be faithful in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.”

Leaders from other Christian traditions expressed their concerns for change as well, ranging from healthcare reform to the sanctity of life, torture and human rights, and the education and care of children around the world. A drafting committee has been formed to shape this conversation into a letter to be sent to the new US President.

In an ecumenical young adult presentation on the opening night of the conference Jordan Blevins represented the National Council of Churches’ Eco-Justice Program as assistant director of the program, and represented the Church of the Brethren. He shared from his experiences of working in young adult ecumenical circles around the issue of environmental justice. Blevins expressed excitement that the young adult generation of today “get it,” he said. “They understand that acknowledging climate change and being active in the protection of our environment is critical to the survival of humanity.”

Jones as director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and co-chair of the US Decade to Overcome Violence program, spoke as part of a panel in the opening plenary of the conference. Building on one of the key themes of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence, he spoke about the churches’ call to end war. Jones quoted President-Elect Obama, challenging the group to find its own voice, and reminded the meeting of its previous statements in regard to war, most recently the confession of culpability offered at the 2006 World Council of Churches Assembly in Brazil. He also spoke of the need to engage congregations in the United States in this conversation of moral integrity. The church’s voice “cannot be empty rhetoric drawn from statements or resolutions,” he said. “We must pray, organize, commit to, and seek peace as the church of God.”

The meeting presented “Blessed Are the Peacemaker” awards. Both Jones and Carter participated in the presentations. This year’s recipients included Blevins, who joined other members of the staff of the NCC’s Eco-Justice Program in receiving an award for their efforts in addressing global warming and other environmental issues.

–Phil Jones is director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

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