Every year in mid-October, an unlikely small town in western Kentucky becomes home to a mosaic of multi-issue peace and justice activists who gather to share music, offer prayers, find encouragement and build community.
More than 200 activists from across the country gathered Oct. 19-21 in Henderson, Ky., for the 10th annual installment of Peace With Justice Weekend. Organized by Zion UCC in Henderson, this year's event was funded in part with a grant from the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
"I keep coming back every year because this is a place and a people that always inspire me," said the Rev. Dan Rosemergy, pastor of Brookmeade Congregational UCC in Nashville, Tenn.
September's terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan raised troubling issues for this year's attendees.
Many expressed concern over increased racial profiling and stereotyping, curtailed civil liberties and the surge in hate crimes being committed against persons of Arab descent.
Imam Mohamad H. Alhomsi, prayer leader for the Islamic Center of Evansville, Ind., spoke about the experiences of his Muslim community, following an incident in September when an Evansville man rammed a car into the Islamic Center's front doors.
Alhomsi told participants that, despite difficult circumstances, there has been an interest among some Christians to learn more about Islam.
In every religion, he said, there are extremists who "take the book, kiss it and put it on the shelf." But Islam is a religion of peace, he said, quoting from the Quran, "Whoever kills one soul will be equivalent to killing all humanity; and whoever saves one soul saves all humanity."
"Allah commands justice, the doing of good, kindness to relatives, and forbids shameful deeds and injustice," Alhomsi said, translating an Arabic text into English.
Other presenters during the weekend included Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches; Faith Nolan, an Afro-Canadian singer-songwriter; Marino Cordoba of Bogota, Colombia, president of the Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians; Steve Schalchlin, a singer/songwriter and AIDS activist from Valley Village, Calif.; Carol Johnson, a peace folksinger from Grand Rapids, Mich.; and the Rev. Lois Powell of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries in Cleveland.
The Rev. Paul Sherry, former UCC president, was among those honored during the weekend for his lifelong commitment to faith-based justice advocacy.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is minister for communication and mission education for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.