More than 50 individuals from across the country are ready to spread peace through interfaith relationships after spending two days in California at a United Church of Christ event titled Peace Village. An Inspiring Model of Ministry of the UCC, Peace Village brought together people from Connecticut to California, and many states in between.
Its goal is to promote faith formation through interfaith activities.
"I came home from San Mateo so fired up about Peace Village, and my hope is that every one of our churches will seriously take a good look at this model," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries. "I can't offer enough superlatives. Peace Village is fresh, innovative, and inspiring, and more than anything, it's something the world deeply, deeply needs – interfaith friendships and understanding."
"I'm so excited about how this faith-formation concept might revolutionize the old Vacation Bible School model into something new, different and impactful," Guess added.
Participants of the two-day gathering on Oct. 3 and 4 at Congregational Church of San Mateo in San Mateo, Calif., attended workshops on nonviolent communication and interfaith collaboration, a youth and young-adult panel of Peace Village counselors, worship at Congregational Church of San Mateo and Peninsula Temple Beth El, and experienced some of the elements of Congregational Church of San Mateo’s Peace Village such as Israeli folk dancing and storytelling.
Muslim interfaith partners offered words of gratitude and wisdom for the effects that Peace Village has had on themselves and their children, who were both youth counselors and participants in the camp. Congregational Church of San Mateo also produced a film for everyone in attendance.
"People received a vision for what is possible in their own communities through collaboration with people of different backgrounds," said the Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, director of the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data. "They also received some skills for building relationships to start their own Peace Villages. Spiritually, many people said that they felt refreshed and renewed for continued ministry and commitments to the work for peace and justice."
Both Lizardy-Hajbi and Guess said they have received positive feedback from attendees and others who are interested in what took place in San Mateo.
"I have received nothing but positive sentiments and gratitude for this gathering," Lizardy-Hajbi said. "I’ve also received several requests from people who did not attend but would like to purchase copies of the Peace Village DVD and booklet."
Said Guess, "The resource and DVD that the UCC now has created, thanks to the experience and expertise of the Congregational Church of San Mateo is a perfect, affordable first step that other UCC churches can use to introduce the Peace Village concept to any congregation."
While there hasn’t been a determination on if or when the next Peace Village event might take place, Lizardy-Hajbi is encouraged that the movement will spread throughout the country as congregations seek out and build relationships with different faith communities. "As Christians, we are realizing more and more that we need to be in community with others so that we can be whole and restore our communities to wholeness," she said.