As Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations prepare to receive the annual Peacemaking offering this Sunday (Oct. 7), the denomination’s Peace Discernment process is beginning to involve congregations in serious conversations on peace and war.

The end result of the Peace Discernment process will be the updating of the PC(USA)’s Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling, which was adopted by the 1980 General Assembly.

One of the four bulletin inserts provided for the Season of Peace leading up to the offering drew attention to this process. 

The new resource for discernment is called Encountering the Gospel of Peace Anew. “It invites participants to consider the message and example of Jesus more extensively than previous work in this area,” says the Rev. Mark Davidson, pastor of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, N.C., and chair of the Peace Discernment Steering Team.

“Along with this resource ― approved for study by this year’s General Assembly ― there is a guide for discernment and a response form,” Davidson says. “This is the key to getting real reflection in congregational study groups. It stresses the difference in listening and sharing as part of the discernment experience.”

In addition to the church-wide discernment work in congregations, the steering team has also been preparing a Jan. 18-20 consultation at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina

“The purpose of the consultation is to gain and share new thinking on peace teaching in the 66 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) related colleges and universities,” says the Rev. Chris Iosso, the PC(USA)’s coordinator of social witness policy.

“College and university presidents, campus ministers, and chaplains have been sent invitations for the consultation, as well as encouragement to test the discernment study among their students,” Iosso added.

In addition to the steering team, preparations for the conference have been led by Gary Luhr,executive director for the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities;  Adrian McMullen, associate for collegiate ministry in Evangelism Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly the General Assembly Mission Council) and Jerry Beavers of the new UKirk association of campus ministers.

Keynote speaker for the consultation is Andrea Bartoli, director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and a member of the Sant’Egidio Community. He will speak on “The Challenge of Peacemaking in the 21st Century.”

Other notable speakers at the consultation include

  • Professor Margaret Aymer of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary and Richard Horsley, retired professor of liberal arts and the study of religion at the University of Massachussetts-Boston,  on “Jesus, the Early Church and Non-violence”
  •  South African peace activist and theologian Allan Boesak and Mary McClintock Fulkerson of Duke Divinity School on “The Challenges of Structural Violence and Oppression” 
  • Professors Steven Zunes of the University of San Francisco and Emily Welty of Pace University on “New Directions for Peacemaking: Nonviolent Action, Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation “ 
  • Tommy Ross Sr., intelligence and defense advisor to U.S. Sen. Harry Reed, and Paul K Chappell of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on “The Challenges of Terrorism and War” and 
  • Professors Cris Toffolo of Northeastern Illinois Universety, Paul Magnarella of Warren Wilson College and Kathryn Poethig of California State University at Monterey on “Teaching Peace in the 21st Century.”

 In addition, nearby PC(USA)-related Warren Wilson College will host a special forum on international education and peacemaking, and part of the program will focus on collegiate ministry programs of peace and reconciliation.

 With the consultation occurring during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, closing worship will feature a sermon on King’s legacy of non-violence by Charles Amjad-Ali, professor at Luther Seminary and former director of the Christian Studies Center in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

 The results of the peace discernment processes in the congregations and at the Montreat consultation will be brought together in a report to the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit. That report will be sent out to the church for further study and response.

 For more information about the Peace Discernment process contact: acswp@pcusa.org or pqrs@verizon.net, or the Peacemaking Peacemaking Program.