A proud and independent Caribbean nation struggling with a high level of violence and criminality — is the location of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) facilitated by the World Council of Churches May 17-25.
The convocation, which is prepared in cooperation with the National Council of Churches of Jamaica, will take place near the capital Kingston and will be the largest peace gathering in WCC history, with an expected participation of about one thousand people from around the world.
The theological basis of the peace convocation is an ecumenical call for a just peace — a milestone in the developing of an ecumenical theology of peace.
The peace convocation’s theme is “Glory to God and Peace on Earth” and is the “harvest festival” of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence, which since 2001 has been coordinating and strengthening peace work among WCC member churches.
“The peace convocation is the moment when we will bring together the fruit of the work of the past years,” Dr Fernando Enns, moderator of the IEPC preparatory committee said during the meeting of the WCC Central Committee Feb. 16-22. “But it will also be the moment when we will admit our omissions and mistakes. At the same time, it will be the moment for us to ask how to move on.”
In Bible study, worship, workshops, seminars and plenary sessions the convocation participants will deal with four thematic areas: Peace in Community, Peace with the Earth, Peace in the Economy, and Peace between Nations. In particular young people will have many opportunities to contribute their talents and ideas.
There will be 140 workshops in all. The Rev. Micheline Kamba Kasongo from the Congo has prepared one of them, which will have as its theme how women with physical handicaps living in areas of conflict are making their contribution to peace and reconciliation.
“Women who have speech problems, are blind or handicapped have the worst chance to protect themselves from sexual abuse and rape.” The aim of the workshop, which has already been tried out with women in the Congo, is, she says, to provide information on the situation, share their experiences and insights, and strengthen and support women in their struggle against abuse.
Preparations are moving up a gear
For the churches of the Caribbean the peace convocation is a high watermark event according to Gary Harriott, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Jamaica, the local organizer for the event.
“This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Council of Church of Jamaica,” he said. “It is a real privilege for us to be able to celebrate this anniversary together with the worldwide ecumenical community.”
Local preparations are going well, according to Harriott. Many people from the churches are involved and helping with the logistics and organization. Political leaders are also wishing the peace convocation well. Harriott was happy to be able to report that “The country’s political leadership, the Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and the Prime Minster Bruce Golding, have promised their support.”
However, it is not only the support of political decision makers that is important for the churches in this violence-ridden land. Harriott also believes it to be important that the peace convocation should make contact with local peace projects.
Participants will have an opportunity to do that on the very first day. “It is our hope that these visits will lead to a real exchange of experiences and stories. Dialogue and listening to one another is an important step on the way to a just peace.”
A cultural high point for the Jamaican churches will be the Concert for Peace, to which musicians have been invited to bring their own message of peace. The concert will take place in Kingston, and will be broadcast by radio throughout the island.
The vision of a just peace
On the first day of the convocation in Jamaica delegates will be invited to take the path as churches to a just peace. They will be called to become multipliers of the message as they take it back to their home churches.
The just peace which the call envisages is seen “as a collective and dynamic yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation.”
As part of the work of the peace convocation there will be eight study seminars that will reflect theologically on the theme of a just peace in four thematic areas.
Theological students can register to participate in this program by April 1. It is being arranged in cooperation with the United Theological College of the West Indies and the Boston University School of Theology. The aim of the seminars, for which credits can be obtained by students’ from their own universities, is to strengthen ecumenical education through theological reflection and students’ own experiences.
How to participate from a distance
On Sunday, May 22, Christians in all parts of the world are invited to relate worship in their own churches to the peace convocation. Hymns, Bible texts and prayers — for example the “peace prayer” written by the Caribbean churches can be included in worship services everywhere on earth. The hope is that there will be a worldwide wave of praise and prayer for peace, radiating out from Jamaica to Africa, Europe and Asia.