Taken by the overwhelming churchwide response to its Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War, the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers is asking that the denomination's anti-war advocacy not be distracted by Christmas, but propelled by it.
They're even proposing that the UCC's '100,000 for Peace' campaign be ramped up to a whole new level.
Will UCC members add "Iraq War" to its long list of Christmastime responsibilities? Church leaders think they will. Two church officers stood defiantly outside the White House on Oct. 10, representing the concerns of at least 63,797 UCC members who had co-signed a Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War, demanding that the war be ended.
"We will present these petitions and hope that they're received by someone at the White House," the Rev. John H. Thomas told about 50 impromptu supporters who gathered near Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Park, just before he and the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, attempted to deliver the petitions to the White House.
"If that's not the case, we plan to stay until we are arrested as a sign of our commitment and the commitment of all of you," Thomas said. "And we do that as two officers of the church representing many, many across our denomination."
With those words, followed by a prayer, Thomas and Jaramillo stood their ground in a no-protest zone just outside the black wrought iron fence at the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. While Jaramillo lifted stacks of the petitions into the air, Thomas held a single sign that read, "Support the troops. End the war."
After not responding to three requests from Park Service Police to leave the area, Thomas and Jaramillo were arrested. Both were charged with refusing to obey police orders and taken by van to a Washington police station where they were held for about three hours and released after each paid a $100 fine.
The White House action came after more-successful meetings held earlier that morning on Capitol Hill where Thomas, Jaramillo and the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, met with representatives from the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
After returning to Cleveland from the Washington, D.C., action, Thomas reflected on the importance of the UCC's "100,000 for Peace" campaign.
"Our effort in Washington, we realize, was largely symbolic," Thomas wrote afterward to supporters of the campaign. "It alone neither rattled the White House nor convinced the Congress. … Yet, our effort was one powerful witness expressed alongside 63,797 others — faithful UCC members who are have publicly committed to joining protest to prayer to end this war. Our petition-delivery attempt was one step among thousands that will ultimately result in a new day of peace for the people of Iraq."
100K's next phase
Since Oct. 10, Thomas, Jaramillo and other church officers say they have heard from hundreds of UCC members, with most expressing gratitude that the church has taken a leadership role in calling for the war's end.
And many have strongly encouraged the church to do even more, Thomas says.
That's why, on Nov. 15, church leaders announced in a blast e-mail to nearly 70,000 people that the UCC's "100,000 for Peace" campaign was gearing up for additional advocacy during Advent and Christmas.
"Christmas is a time to embrace peace, to proclaim it not only in our worship, but to live it through our witness," Thomas told United Church News. "While it might be tempting to take some 'time off' from our advocacy during the holidays, we mustn't. The people most affected by this war — those displaced by the violence and those who serve in the military — certainly don't have that luxury."
Thomas says the next phase of the web-driven campaign will include three new emphases:
$100,000 for Iraq refugee aid and resettlement.
"We are asking our members and churches to collectively raise '$100,000 for peace' before Jan. 6," Thomas says. "This is emergency aid to address the tragic and growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq and surrounding countries — the 4 million people who have been displaced as a result of this war."
A gift of $40 will feed a family of four for two weeks, according to Peter Makari, the UCC/Disciples' area executive for the Middle East. (See related article.)
Contributions are being received online at www.ucc.org/100kforpeace, where a thermometer is tracking progress toward the $100,000 goal.
100,000 prayers and letters for U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.
"While we know that churches have been praying for and supporting our U.S. military personnel through a variety of ways, we want there to be a visible increase in our outreach and support over the holidays," Thomas says. "We also hope our advocacy will include concern for those returning from active duty in Iraq, that they are afforded the quality government services, programs and care they deserve."
Resources for individual and communal prayers are available at www.ucc.org/100Kforpeace, along with opportunities to post real-time on-line prayers for U.S. military personnel.
100,000 in-district visits to Congressional offices.
"While it was symbolically important that John Thomas and Linda Jaramillo bring our UCC petitions to Washington, the next step is that we must create an undeniable groundswell of letters, calls and visits to the local in-district offices of our senators and representatives," says Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., office of Justice and Witness Ministries. "The clear concern about ending this war, spoken from a faith perspective, is compelling and must be expressed."
A new calendar www.ucc.org/100Kforpeace is tracking UCC members' in-district meetings at congressional offices. Once data is entered by UCC members, the date and place of local visits is available for all to see. The hope, said Sorensen, is that others across the church will know of the planned visits and simultaneously join in prayer and solidarity.
Truly 100,000 strong?
Church leaders are also hoping that, by Jan. 6, the campaign finally will live up to its name. They're hoping that, by then, 100,000 people will have endorsed the Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War.
"We know there are easily 100,000 people across this church who are committed to being advocates for peace," Jaramillo says, adding that it's important that the momentum felt during the summer and fall not be slowed simply because the petitions were taken to Washington.
"From the beginning of this advocacy effort, we knew it would be a monumental effort to reach 100,000 endorsing signatures, but we're coming very close to making that actually happen," she says. "We dream of a vital network of 100,000 peacemakers, because there's still so much work to be done and so many ways that we can make a difference."
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