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Unity Presbyterian in Denver, North Carolina, has a history of peacemaking engagement, yet the word peacemaking was not always a term understood as connected with the church’s mission. Jay Sloan, now the volunteer coordinator for Unity’s commitment to peacemaking, moved to Denver four years ago and saw Unity Presbyterian as a mission-oriented church. It was not until becoming acquainted with the Commitment to Peacemaking that over 4,300 PC(USA) churches have signed, however, did Jay and Unity see that the mission work so intricately connected with the life of their church was actually peacemaking work. Therefore, in 2009, Unity Presbyterian signed the Commitment to Peacemaking and a process of rediscovering the meaning of peace began.
Peacemaking, for some, is a loaded term. It can bring back memories of the Vietnam Era—of protests, peace signs, and public stances against war—and sometimes such memories are uncomfortable. For others, peace might be an action of caring for God’s creation, or helping people find peace within themselves. Unity’s parishioners held a variety of understandings of peacemaking, some of them negative.
To unpack any discomfort around peacemaking, co-pastors Rev. Carol Clark and Rev. Mark Clark led a series of worship services on peacemaking that highlighted the many ways people could understand the term peacemaking in today’s world. A group meets regularly to participate in the Peace Discernment process, and from this dialogue, the participants are also able to confront different perceptions of peace based upon each person’s individual contexts.
Unity created a peace garden to represent some of the ways its congregation understands peace, and Rev. Mark Clark’s beautiful video demonstrates that peacemaking begins with the individual, then the family, community, and wider world.
What are ways that Unity Presbyterian is actively involved in peacemaking? Unity had the privilege of hosting a centering prayer workshop that continuously helps its congregation members work on peace within the self. Unity adopted a local nursing home that houses people from some of Denver’s poorest communities—many who no longer have family to care for them. Unity’s support helps bring peace to individuals who so desperately need peace near the end of their life. A class on Ethics in America has Unity participants learning peaceful dialogue practices. Globally, Unity held a lecture series on Islam today and also connected with the Israel/Palestine Network.
Unity has learned from a water quality expert linking God’s gift of water to the deep need to keep water clean—realizing that this is in fact a form of peacemaking. Through a health ministry, local mason yard Vietnamese immigrant and Cherokee relationship building, and a Martin Luther King Jr. Day hands-on worship service, it is clear that Unity is committed to peace.
In looking toward the future, Unity also sees focusing on peace education for children and youth as a priority. Peacemaking, as Unity sees, is an ongoing learning process through education and also actively participating in individual spiritual practices and mission work. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is proud to feature Unity Presbyterian Church as a church from which many of us can learn—that peacemaking is a collaborative and sometimes uncomfortable, yet one that transcends the love sent from our Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.