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Next Mosaic of Peace conference sure to be impactful based on a history of memorable experiences

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is now taking applications for the 2024 conference

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Carl Horton, Coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, takes part in a project at the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program)

LOUISVILLE — From hearing firsthand accounts about the plight of Palestinians to collaborating with a local group that makes textile art, being part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mosaic of Peace conference in the Holy Land was a memorable experience for past participant Megan Acedo.

“I really got to meet people who were living out the work of advocacy, the work of justice, the work of loving our neighbor, in ways that were really profound,” said Acedo, an elder and clerk of session of Beacon church in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. “There were heartbreaking stories, but overall, it was an incredible and transformative experience.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is now accepting applications for the next Mosaic of Peace conference, which takes place from March 4-15, 2024, in the Israel/Palestine region. People who want to explore more of the Holy Land can opt into a Jordan extension that lasts until March 19.

The conference, which began in 2014, is held every two years (except during the pandemic) and brings together church members and partners, clergy and other interested individuals who desire to explore the rich history of the region and to engage with those who long for peace in the area.

The next Mosaic of Peace is set for March 4-15, 2024.

“The Mosaic of Peace conference offers an opportunity for Presbyterians and people of faith to walk in the places where Jesus walked in the Holy Land, bringing scripture to life in a very real, visceral way,” said Simon Doong, Associate for Peacemaking. “It also provides an opportunity for Christians to learn about the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine, in the land that is the home to many faiths, including our own.”

The conference gives participants the opportunity to hear from Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders and to study peacemaking practices within the framework of PC(USA) policy.

“Having been a part of the leadership team for this conference since 2014, I have watched people’s lives be transformed and their understandings of the issues and realities in the Holy Land be expanded,” said the Rev. Carl Horton, Coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Participants can “see the sites and settings of so much of our biblical story, but it is also an opportunity to encounter the ‘living stones’ and to hear from the people who call this place home. The historical and present-day realities of life under political, military and economic occupation in this land can inform and impact our faith, shape our perspective of the land and its people and guide us in our efforts for peace with justice.”

Acedo, who was part of the 2022 Mosaic of Peace, recalls visiting the Tent of Nations Farm, which is located in the hills southwest of Bethlehem and owned by a Palestinian Christian family.

“It has slowly been surrounded by Israeli settlements on all of the neighboring five or six hills around it,” Acedo said. “They regularly get eviction notices from the Israeli government, and so in response to all of this, they have started (an international volunteer program). They welcome groups like ours to talk about the importance of land and things like olives and apricots and how important that is in Palestinian culture, and they fed us a lovely meal there.”

The group worked on these felted wool grottos in which nativity scene figures are placed. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program)

Acedo also recalled collaborating with members of the L’Arche community, which brings together intellectually disabled and non-disabled people to make textile art pieces, including doves made from felt, as well as various goods and wares. (Go here to read a blog post describing how they worked on felted wool grottos or caves that nativity scene figures are placed in.)

“We got to work side-by-side with members of their community,” Acedo said. “I didn’t speak a word of Arabic. … All we had to go on was body language and gestures and things like that, but it was beautiful. It was this connection across culture and language.”

Also on the trip was the Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris, a retired pastor who took part in the last conference with her spouse. “The conference is made up of so many cultural textures and colors, it is truly a mosaic that can transform your life,” she said.

She cites several memorable experiences, including “the opportunity to be in the Holy Land; to walk in the land and be among the people where Jesus lived and carried out his ministry; to hear from numerous dynamic and deeply faithful speakers about the situation as they experience it; to have our hearts broken over the plight of the Palestinians in one moment, and to be inspired and walk away in awe at their resilience in the next; to witness the haunting beauty of the land” and “to experience the food and warmth of the people.”

An olive tree at the site of the Garden of Gethsemane (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program)

The Rev. Ross Herr Wayland, pastor of Sixth Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., was drawn to last year’s Mosaic of Peace because of her longtime interest in peacemaking and “how we live together with more tolerance and acceptance of our differences.”

The trip was impactful for several reasons, she said, including “gaining a perspective from people who live with thousands of years of history and witnessing the resilience of people who have lived under that shadow of conflict and war for over 70 years.” She also spoke of “talking with Christians who live under the occupation, with little control over some important parts of their lives, like water and travel” and learning about their attempts to continue working for peace.

The conference has a lasting effect on many participants, said Horton, who noted, “Over the years our participants have returned to become active in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)’s action and advocacy on behalf of Israel/Palestine. Many have become involved or taken leadership roles in their local community efforts and organizations that work for peace in the region. Almost always they return to share their experiences with their congregations and communities.”

Participants in the 2022 Mosaic of Peace conference pause for a selfie. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program)

An example of that comes from the Goodman-Morris family.

“My husband Mark and I have led worship services in both Presbyterian and UCC congregations based on our experiences, following the imperative to ‘Come and See, Go and Tell,’” she said. “We have posted stories about Israel/Palestine on social media and have often shared our stories of the political situation with others.”

Interested in the upcoming conference? Read the 2024 Mosaic of Peace brochure here.

Read more about the experiences of past conference participants by going to the Swords into Plowshares blog and by listening to “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” (Episode 102 of Season 1).

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible through your gifts to the Peace & Global Witness Offering.

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