Both home and abroad, members of the United Church of Christ will join people of faith from a multitude of religions offering prayers for peace this weekend on International Day of Prayers for Peace.
"With all the violence at home and abroad, it can be hard to know what we as individuals, or even congregations, can do," said UCC minister, the Rev. Ellen Jennings. "So, inspired by Gandhi's quote, 'There is no way to peace; peace is the way,' our Sunday service will highlight the many ways, great and small, we can each make peace in the world. For some, this might mean advocating for gun control legislation, changes to our mental health system, or international diplomacy. For others, this might mean making amends with a family member."
Jennings, pastor of Cleveland Park Congregational in Washington D.C. is especially moved by the need for peace, after a gunman killed 13 people at the Washington Navy Yard.
On Sunday, Jennings and her faith community, Cleveland Park Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., will explore "How to Make Peace" by reflecting on current events. Jennings said the service will touch on both the Syrian Civil War and the Navy Yard shooting, and the congregation hopes to feature more than 100 origami peace cranes – the Japanese folded paper birds that symbolize world peace.
International Day of Prayers for Peace is celebrated each year on Sept. 21 as a day established by the World Council of Churches and the United Nations to make and pray for peace. In 1981, the UN adopted a resolution establishing Peace Day as a visible commitment by its members to peacemaking in a variety of ways. In 2002, the UN declared Sept. 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace. This year's theme, titled "Who Will You Make Peace With?" is inspiring UCC members to seek peace in their families, communities and around the world – even in places such as Syria and Palestine.
UCC activists have followed the situation in Syria closely. So far 4 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes in the civil war, 1.7 million have fled to nearby Middle Eastern countries for safety, and 100,000 lives have been lost in the fighting. The Syrian Civil War took a turn for the worse recently, with the use of chemical weapons against civilians that killed 1,500 people. With President Obama pushing for military intervention, UCC leaders and advocates called on the White House and Congress to pursue a political solution to the crisis, while UCC members rallied by sending more than 3,000 letters to government officials, calling for peace through political means.
Over in the Northwest, First Congregational UCC in Hillsboro, Ore., will offer prayers of peace for other nations in the Middle East, including Palestine and Israel, because the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is harmful to Palestinians, Christians, Jews and Muslims, says the Rev. Diane Dulin.
"Our duty is to pray for peace, love our enemies, and examine ways in which we are complicit with evil," Dulin added. "Through our prayers, may we deepen the expressions of faith which call us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed."
Dulin believes that the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is an injustice to Palestinians who are also Israeli citizens, and hinders the peace process in that region.
"Abuses and injustices committed by Israel lead many to lose hope for the just and ethical expression of the rich traditions of Jewish faith within the nation of Israel," Dulin said.
Simple acts such as writing down a prayer can remind those in community working for peace starts small in some cases. First Congregational UCC, in West Springfield, Mass., gave worship participants, children, and youth group members dove cards. Members were asked to put their names on the front and a brief prayer for peace on the back, and the cards were hung in the sanctuary to create "flying doves for peace."
One important aspect of International Day of Peace is that no act of kindness should be overlooked. Some suggestions for celebrating Peace Day individually include lighting a candle at noon, doing a good deed for a stranger, or observing a private moment of silence.