The United Church of Christ wants to lift up each one of us as an advocate for peace, reinforcing our Christian tradition by encouraging interaction with, and understanding of people from other faiths at Peace Village. Congregational Church of San Mateo, Calif., is hosting the two day exercise, Peace Village, on Oct. 3 and 4 as part of the UCC's initiative to create centers of excellence for the wider church, and promote faith formation through interfaith activities.
"We do this because, first, we are committed to peace and active non-violence, and because the world has changed so dramatically in the last few decades," said the Rev. Penny Nixon, senior pastor at Congregational Church of San Mateo. "People are rubbing shoulders with various faiths and traditions every day — at work, school, playgrounds, in their neighborhood."
"We identified a congregation that does a good job with interfaith faith formation, and they are leading the conference and creating a DVD and a PDF to share," said the Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, the UCC's minister of research for Local Church Ministries. "We'll share with folks who attend how they created Peace Village, and how other congregations can become Peace Villages. It makes San Mateo a kind of teaching and learning center."
The UCC is inviting church pastors and educators, family and children's ministers, interfaith leaders and interested members to participate in this successful model of contextual, collaborative faith formation.
Peace Village San Mateo will be based on a model created in 2011 for children and youth in collaboration with the Muslim Children's Garden School, Peninsula Temple Beth El, and Congregational Church of San Mateo. Older teens served as counselors and acted as the village leaders, with adult supervision, as they developed leadership skills and strengthened their faith beliefs.
It is hoped that this successful model translates to all generations. Among the activities and experiences the "villagers" will participate in are peaceful conflict resolution, different religious practices, field trips, cooperative games, group workshops and worship. Each of the attendees will learn how to take this exercise home and share it in their congregations and communities. All will receive a copy of the 16-minute DVD and a booklet to share about creating a Peace Village ministry at home. The cost of registration for the October event is only $50.
"Interfaith dialogue gives people an understanding of what they believe. It reinforces one's own faith tradition, rather than diluting it, which is a myth of interfaith interaction," Lizardy-Hajbi added.
Peace Village San Mateo received grants from the UCC, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Minnesota Conference of the UCC. The Ashley Endowment of the Minnesota Conference, designated for ministry with children and youth 19 and younger, donated $10,000 to LCM and Peace Village.
"When we looked at this, when Kristina presented it, what we saw was an opportunity to build capacity in faith formation and have maximum impact, said the Rev. Wade Zick, associate conference minister of faith formation for children and youth in the Minnesota Conference.
The first Peace Village started in 1994 as a way to promote peaceful conflict resolution in children and teenagers. This October conference hopes to build on that model. Today, there are 20 peace villages in 10 states, with a majority of those hosted by UCC congregations.
"Because of the multi-faith global context in which we live, we need an understanding of other religions," Lizardy-Hajbi said. "So much violence comes through religious conflict."
Both Lizardy-Hajbi and Nixon believe that if there's going to be peace in the world, faith formation can help build that peace.
"We need an alternative to the religious violence that is worldwide," said Nixon, who has witnessed how interfaith engagement, sharing traditions and beliefs, can create an understanding of other religions and cultures.
"It makes you distill your faith in a way that is communicable to not only understand it, but honor it. And that's a huge aspect of the faith formation concept," Nixon said.
"I'm really hoping that peace villages will sprout up all over the country, that people do it in their own context in their neighborhoods and it makes in a dent in faith formation, not only for the United Church of Christ, but for all houses of faith," Nixon said. "I think it's a new day. It's part of the radical hospitality and extravagant welcome of the UCC. We're not in charge, we're partners."