Written by Anthony Moujaes
Leaders and members from the United Church of Christ are eager to join their brothers and sisters in faith at Ecumenical Advocacy Days next March in a united effort to confront violence that has been at the forefront of the nation’s attention in 2013.
"Following a year in which almost 30 children were victims of gun violence in Newtown, Conn., the murder of Trayvon Martin was dismissed based on an unjust 'stand your ground law' in Florida, and conflicts rage around the world while our nation stands on the brink of new military operations in Syria – lifting up a word of lament seemed appropriate," said the Rev. Mike Neuroth, international policy advocate for the UCC.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) recently announced its theme for the 2014 gathering as "Jesus Weeps: Resisting Violence, Building Peace." The annual gathering in the nation’s capital draws about 1,000 people together for plenary sessions, meals and workshops focused how to resist violence in society and work for peace.
In discerning the focus for the 2014 conference, the Ecumenical Advocacy Days planning team felt that addressing the violence in our culture and world "would continue to be the most pressing issue on the hearts and minds of the faith community," Neuroth said. He was part of the drafting team that developed the theme and biblical grounding for the 2014 conference.
Those from across the UCC who attend the annual gathering, now in its 12th year, will join ecumenical partners to share their hope for world peace, and learn various ways through worshipping and learning together how to address violence. Ecumenical Advocacy Days, which takes place from March 21 through March 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C., is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community grounded in witness and shared traditions of justice, peace and integrity of creation.
"The conference will not just be about lament. It will be about lifting out of our diverse faith traditions those stories and practices that give us hope and can help us build a more peaceful world," Neuroth said. "Peace-building will be a focus, and for the UCC which asserts itself as a Just Peace church, exploring the intersection of peace with justice will be a topic that will resonate with our community."
Jake Joseph, a member of the Council for Youth and Young Adults Ministry of the UCC, and part of the former Justice and Witness Ministries Board, believes that EAD gatherings are "more than a meeting, a conference, or an opportunity to network and get free pens and water bottles," he said. "It is our call."
Joseph is a third-year M.Div. student at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, and a member in discernment of Plymouth Congregational UCC in the Rocky Mountain Conference.
"Each EAD event is a unique opportunity to ecumenically immerse yourself into a process of ecumenical community building, engaged preparation and global learning, and intentional advocacy on Capitol Hill," said Joseph, who attended the last two EAD gatherings. "That process is vital to the mission of the Ecumenical Church and for the justice and unity-centered heart of the United Church of Christ. Since the last EAD, which focused on food justice, I know that I have remained in communication with my congressional representatives and have gained an increased sense of efficacy and voice with a unique perspective from the heart of my Christian faith."
Neuroth is hopeful that the wider church will join him in Washington in March to worship, train and take action against violence. "Now is a time when as a church and as a society we need to address the violence in our world and invest in the 'things that make for peace,’" he said.