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James Atwood Institute for Congregational Courage coming to Ghost Ranch Aug. 22-25

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will offer up training and a film team

by Presbyterian Peace Fellowship | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center is the site of the James Atwood Institute for Congregational Courage Aug. 22-25. (Photo courtesy of Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center)

When the call went out to those concerned about gun violence to go to Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in New Mexico, the first registrants hailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific regions of the country.

Why go to New Mexico? For the James Atwood Institute for Congregational Courage. This new initiative of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship will be held August 22-25 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The goal? To train clergy and lay leaders for the long mission of ending the gun violence epidemic, a disaster that took over 43,000 American lives last year.

“Why come to such a beautiful place to focus on such a painful issue? I think that the quiet of the mesa will clear our minds so that we can learn how to tackle the issue of gun violence effectively,” said Rev. Harry Eberts, pastor of one of the sponsors of the Atwood Institute, First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe. “The country needs it. The church needs it.” Since 1955, the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center has hosted Presbyterians for continuing education, training and renewal.

As part of the PC(USA)’s Decade to End Gun Violence and in celebration of the 80th birthday of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Atwood Institute will offer practical training for a range of gun violence prevention educational, pastoral and action strategies for local congregations. Participants can follow up the event with quarterly online gatherings with their Atwood Institute community, with a goal of encouraging one another over time. The Atwood Institute is ecumenical, open to all denominations.

Updates on the Atwood Institute for Congregational Courage:

  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will join the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship event to offer training on gun violence emergency response alongside trauma specialist, Mebane Boyd, a Resilient Communities Officer at the North Carolina Partnership for Children. Boyd is the daughter of Jim Atwood and Roxana Atwood.
  • Top gun violence prevention activists will offer hands-on training, such as Miranda Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, on involving youth and young adults in GVP; internationally-known Catholic Priest and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Father John Dear, on the faith basis for the courage to prevent gun violence; and blacksmiths from RAWTools on the Guns to Gardens movement, including a time for participants to help transform a gun into a garden tool. Skills covered will range from preaching and discussing gun violence prevention effectively, to congregational education and advocacy, to secure gun storage campaigns such as the BeSMART for Kids Campaign, and more. Participants can expect to go home equipped to start or strengthen gun violence prevention programs in their congregations.
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will also arrive at the Institute with a film crew and producer David Barnhart, as part of the creation of a sequel to their award-winning film “Trigger: The Ripple Effects of Gun Violence.” The film team will provide interview options for Atwood Institute participants and leaders who wish to share about the gun violence prevention mission of their congregations and their own motivation for saving lives for possible inclusion in the new documentary.
  • An additional option is to stay at Ghost Ranch a few more days for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship National Gathering Aug. 25-28. Celebrate PPF’s 80th year, build community and plan for the future of peacemaking. Learn more here.

The Atwood Institute honors the late Presbyterian prophet of gun violence prevention, the Rev. James Atwood, a pastor, missionary, hunter, author and champion for people of faith stepping up to stop the violence. June marks four years since his death from Covid.

The Revs. Roxana and James Atwood (Photo by Della Orr-Harter)

“Jim was prophetically called to a gun violence prevention ministry and it took courage. But, from the very beginning in 1975, he always found friends in this work, someone he could encourage and who could encourage him,” reflects the Rev. Roxana Atwood, Jim’s wife. “Courage is not about individuals doing this work alone. It’s about community, about courageous congregations.”

The costs for the four-day Atwood Institute will be a $180 registration fee per person. Participants are responsible for their own travel and lodging at Ghost Ranch. Family members are welcome to come for daily Ranch activities or a time for renewal. Teams from churches are encouraged if possible.

For questions about the Atwood Institute, send an email here.

Download a brochure about the August 22-25 Atwood Institute at Ghost Ranch here.

 Learn more and register here. Thanks to event sponsors, some scholarships will be available. To request a scholarship, contact Christa Galvin here.

About the Rev. James Atwood

When a member of his Virginia congregation was murdered with a $20 handgun in 1975, Jim Atwood began nearly 50 years of calling the church of Jesus Christ to take action to balance the rights of responsible gun owners with the right to live free from gun violence. Recipient of the Peace Fellowship’s Peaceseeker Award and the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, his books include “America and Its Guns – A Theological Exposé,” “Gundamentalism and What It is Doing to America,” and “Collateral Damage.” Find book links and study guides in the Education Section of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit here.

About Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Founded in 1944, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is an independent nationwide community of Presbyterians committed to the nonviolence of Jesus Christ. We equip congregations and individuals to seek practical alternatives to violence and war, including gun violence. We operate with volunteers and a small staff, collaborating with the PC(U.S.A.) and encouraging this work in our congregations and presbyteries. Learn more here.

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