'May peace prevail on earth'
Peace poles'—the 8-foot monuments that point heavenward declaring the prayer "May peace prevail on earth" in numerous languages—are finding homes near places of worship, schools, hospitals and universities. They are even gaining popularity as wedding gifts for the couples that seemingly have everything. Presently, over 250,000 peace poles in 180 countries have been planted as visual reminders to pray for peace.
On September 21, 2004, the International Day of Peace, a peace pole was planted at the UCC's Church House in Cleveland. It now stands in the courtyard adjacent to the Amistad Chapel with its peaceful, prayerful message written in eight languages: German, Filipino, Hebrew, Swahili, Lakota Sioux, Spanish, English and Arabic.
On Sept. 21—the International Day of Peace—a "peace pole" was planted in the courtyard between the UCC's Church House in Cleveland and the adjacent UCC-owned Radisson Hotel, seen in the background. The pole bears the message, "May peace prevail on Earth," in eight languages. J. Bennett Guess photo.
The first peace pole originated in Japan in 1955, in response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Masahisa Goi, a Japanese poet, writer and philosopher, began the peace pole movement in the hopes of spreading hope for peace around the world. Goi died in 1980, but his message has gained momentum. Since the mid- 1980s, Peace Pole Makers, USA, is the only company in North America sanctioned to make peace poles. Other peace pole makers are located in Japan and Germany.
Each peace pole is hand made. The inscription—"May peace prevail on earth"—is always the same and appears on the pole's four, six, or eight sides. Peace pole planters can choose from nearly one thousand translations of the prayer, including Braille and numerous Native American tribal languages. To inquire about planting a peace pole, contact Peace Pole Makers, U.S.A., 7221 S. Wheeler Rd., Maple City, MI 49664; toll-free at 877-334-4567; e-mail email@example.com.
Congregation's peace pole symbolizes beliefs
ÔWe make peace where we are'
Congregational UCC in Jacksonville, Ill., was an abolitionist church in the 1800s. Today, it's a just peace, open and affirming congregation. The Rev. Betty Sue Sherrod says planting a peace pole last winter in front of their church building was just "a natural outgrowth to who we are and what we believe."
The pole does not stand idle as a stationary monument. Congregational UCC makes sure the pole stays in the forefront of their commitment to keep world peace on the top of their priority list. On alternating months, the peace pole becomes the centerpiece for a peace-oriented event.
In October, on United Nations Day, retired U.S. Congressman Paul Finley spoke about the U.N. and the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Wanting to symbolize their concern, members drove iron stakes into the ground around the peace pole and built a 5 1/2-foot "wall." Mounted on it were photographs and stories about the controversial wall that's going up to separate the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"We walked around, looked at those things, then we put our prayers into action," Sherrod says. As a trombonist played "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," Sherrod says, "we tore the wall down. We took our hands to that we wall and we tore it apart."
Throughout the next twelve months, Congregational UCC will pray for peace around their peace pole in similar events, bringing attention to human rights, racial justice, earth day, gay pride and Hiroshima day.
Congregational UCC's event on United Nations Day was originally slated to be a candlelight vigil for peace. But, at 5 p.m. when the candle lighting was to have taken place, there was still ample daylight. Sherrod and the others lit their candles in the daylight, feeling a bit silly. In the benediction, Sherrod reassured the group.
"Take heart from that," she told them. "Sometimes it feels kind of silly to be for peace in a violent world."
In order to make peace, Sherrod tells her parishioners to think globally, act locally. "We make peace where we are É one by one, relationship by relationship. We will change the world as peace spreads."
ÔWe're building a culture of peace'
Connecting with the environment
Riverside Salem UCC is situated on Grand Island, N.Y., a residential island on the Niagara River facing Canada. Their church building, actually, is not a "church building" at all. It is a small, two-room cottage with a kitchen and a main room, where worshippers gather in a circle for a more intimate, casual style of worship. Guest preachers don't really "preach." They have a conversation with the church members.
The Rev. Shirley Chan says Riverside Salem UCC has a membership of only 45 members, but its ministry reaches far beyond 45 individuals—their mailing list contains 270 addresses.
"I wouldn't say we are absolutely unilateral on what we believe," Chan says, "but it's a wonderful place of dialogue, opportunities to participate. A lot of people choose to be in touch with us."
In front of the cottage, also referred to as an "environmental chapel," stands a peace pole and, adjacent to it, a labyrinth. Both are used regularly for meditative prayer. The pole has been dedicated to the memory of members and friends of the congregation who were strong peace advocates. On the day the pole was dedicated, on Environmental Sabbath, a folk singer offered music, children made peace cranes and prayers of peace were offered.
"Our place lends itself to doing outdoor things," Chan says. "We sort of connected peace and the environment."
As Riverside Salem looks to its future, Chan says that justice, community and the environmental chapel itself and the sacredness of the land around it remain important facets of the congregation's ministry.
And peace, of course, is inextricably connected to those issues. "There's an Interfaith Peace Network we're part of," explains Chan. "It's taken on the use of this phrase: ÔBuilding a culture of peace.' I think that's what we're about. It's certainly about war and peace, but it's more than response. It's building peace. It's participation in training for alternatives to violence. It's working with our children. Being in our culture, and our educational process, and the ways that we do things in our culture to build people who respond from a peaceful place and have goals that are for the dignity of everyone and sustainability for our earth."
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