‘More fair, equitable and just’: Congregations celebrate Just Peace Sunday
Churches across the United Church of Christ marked Just Peace Sunday as they gathered for worship Sunday, Sept. 17.
This year’s theme and resources focused on “A just forgiveness and the way of peace,” which congregations adapted for their communities and worship services.
“Given what is happening in the world, not only is it important for our churches to lift up issues of peace and justice, but joining such a day is also an important reminder that we are not alone,” said the Rev. Michael Neuroth, director of the UCC’s Washington, D.C. office. “We can take courage from one another for the struggle ahead and affirm that the hope of God’s peace, God’s Shalom, is in fact being built here on earth in new ways.”
The Just Peace pronouncement calls for UCC churches to address systemic injustice using nonviolence and Just Peace practices. The annual designated Sunday — the Sunday preceding Sept. 21 each year — creates the opportunity for churches to dedicate prayers, services and coordinated actions toward celebrating Just Peace work within a congregation and renew their commitment.
A new Just Peace church
“The people of St. James UCC made it clear that they want to be involved in the community and beyond in making things more fair, equitable and just,” said the pastor, the Rev. Paul Werner. “People who had recently joined the church told us at the annual meeting in February that our commitment to inclusivity and our desire to be a people of peace with justice are what attracted them to the church.”
The congregation observed the Sunday last year as well, and in February of this year they voted unanimously to officially declare themselves a Just Peace church.
The Sept. 17 worship service included music with themes related to justice, peace and liberation and emphasized the importance of creation justice as part of Just Peace practices.
“This year, excitingly, we also added First Congregational Church UCC of West Springfield, Mass., to the list of Just Peace churches and affirm their covenant statement that reflects their commitment to ‘seek justice and to oppose violence, racism, sexism and economic inequity,’” Neuroth said.
On the ‘Just Peace journey’
Neuroth and the Rev. Sheila Harvey — both members of the UCC Just Peace National Steering Committee — sat down for a virtual conversation on Just Peace with Adam Hayden, a member of the ministry team at Friedens UCC in Indianapolis.
Harvey noted the importance of local church engagement in principles and actions of Just Peace.
“A lot of times, congregations — even my own in the beginning — can be overwhelmed with all of the needs that we may see happening in the world, and we want to tackle every one of them,” Harvey said. “We can be reminded that wherever your congregation is on the Just Peace journey is OK. It’s important, and it matters.”
At Friedens UCC, the congregation marked Just Peace Sunday with a special mission moment and a call and response reading of the congregation’s Just Peace covenant. Developing a covenant is one step for a church to take in the process of becoming a Just Peace Church.
Just Peace in action
Neuroth shared how Just Peace values are at the heart of the work done by the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy.
“As the conflict in Ukraine threatens to spin into a wider regional — or even a global — conflict, now is an important time to renew and reaffirm our values as a Just Peace Church,” he said. “Last week, in honor of Just Peace Sunday and the International Day of Peace, UCC advocates shared messages with policymakers calling for not only the continued humanitarian support of those whose lives are being devastated by the war, but that our government would also leverage its support toward diplomacy and peacebuilding measures which might have a hope of bringing the war to an end.
“There are no easy answers, but our Just Peace witness has, at the most basic level, affirmed the simple but prophetic hope that ‘Peace is possible,’ even when the circumstances would seem to suggest otherwise. We need to remind ourselves of that hope in times like these, and also — through our action and advocacy — press our government to make that hope a reality.”
‘Central to our life of faith’
For many, Just Peace Sunday offers connection to these broader shared values.
Pilgrim UCC in Bridgetown, Ohio, incorporated Just Peace Sunday worship materials and theme into its Sunday service.
“I appreciate any occasion to celebrate our connection to the larger UCC and to help raise important justice and peace issues as central to our life of faith and journey as Christ-followers,” said the pastor, Rev. MiMi Chamberlin. “We focused on forgiveness and the connection between the personal and global. My message built on the sermon starter suggestion of a ‘trickle up’ philosophy — that how we live each day makes a difference in our world and we can cultivate forgiveness, justice and peace in our hearts, our relationships and our world.”
At Union Congregational UCC in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Harvey serves as senior pastor, the worship service incorporated the invocation and prayer provided through the Just Peace Sunday resources.
During fellowship time, congregants shared stories on what being a Just Peace Church has meant to them.
At Plymouth Church UCC in Milwaukee, several people offered five-minute sermons emphasizing what it they felt it means to be a just peace church.
“Some parts of the sermon were peppered with stories we have heard here at Plymouth from guest speakers or stories we have learned through our local partner organizations,” said Mary Warren, a member of Plymouth. “We hoped not only to offer some thoughts about the difference between acts of mercy and works of justice and their interplay, but to remind and re-educate somewhat what we committed to when Plymouth first created and signed our resolution.”
The bulletin included a small insert inviting congregants to write and share what Just Peace at Plymouth means to them. The congregation’s Justice Network aims to follow up with ways to engage in Just Peace practices and action.
Peace in many realms
First Congregational Church UCC in Colorado Springs, Colo., invited those gathered in the sanctuary and those joining online to observe Just Peace Sunday.
“Our Just Peace Sunday worship focused on the difficulty of building peace in two realms: among people with whom we vehemently disagree and with the earth and its creatures,” said the congregation’s lead minister, the Rev. Lee Ann Bryce.
The church also hosted a forum where speaker Mike Williams, executive director of local non-partisan advocacy organization Citizens Project, spoke about voting rights, voting access and voter participation.
“None of the values we share in Just Peace — whether racial and community justice, creation justice, or economic justice — will be sustainable unless there are laws and policies that support and enable them,” said congregant Schuyler Foerster.
Just Peace in the UCC
The UCC first declared itself a Just Peace church in 1985 in a General Synod pronouncement calling on local churches to go through intentional discernment to mirror that declaration. A 2015 resolution celebrated the UCC’s 30 years as a Just Peace Church and created an annual “Just Peace Sunday” that is now reflected in the UCC Calendar.
There are currently over 200 churches in the United States that are part of the Just Peace network. Guidance on becoming a Just Peace church can be found here.
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