When you’re not at General Assembly, go to Peace Camp

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, usually a big General Assembly presence, offers online event during GA week

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Emily Brewer, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, speaks at the 2019 Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly is usually a busy time for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Typically the parachurch organization is at GA supporting commissioners, bringing overtures, advocating for positions, observing meetings, hosting a booth in the exhibit hall, and presenting a popular Wednesday breakfast. Peace Fellowship Executive Director the Rev. Emily Brewer says GA is a great chance to meet people and connect them to the group’s work.

So, what’s the group to do when GA becomes an entirely virtual event, as it will be this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) is setting up camp, also online.

Presbyterian Peace Camp: A Virtual Week of Learning, Prayer and Action will be June 18-27 during time slots when the General Assembly business meeting is not in session. The Peace Fellowship invites GA commissioners and advisory delegates, denominational leaders and staff, and Presbyterians across the nation to join virtually in daily experiences of worship, issue teach-ins and action. The actions will focus on the peace and justice witness that local presbyteries and congregations can make in their home communities, including responses to the escalating movement to end police brutality against communities of color. Peace Camp is offered free of charge and will include the annual Peace Breakfast on Wednesday morning, June 24.

“We’re saying it’s BYOB – bring your own breakfast,” Brewer said early this week from her Brooklyn home.

The changes to General Assembly, which has been drastically scaled down from its original plans, took most of the issues PPF advocates for, such as fossil fuel divestment, off the agenda.

“The policies that we advocate for are really important,” Brewer said. “And we know that the polices are nothing if they’re not implemented. Policies on paper don’t change anything. It takes those being implemented at various levels of the church. So, we are really disappointed many overtures won’t be heard or considered.”

She added the disappointment isn’t just in the lack of policy action, but for the commissioners who were animated by those policies and looked forward to advocating for them in Baltimore and taking them back to their presbyteries.

But, she says, the PPF understands this is an extraordinary situation.

“We’re trying to be supportive of what needs to happen at GA and at this time during a global pandemic,” Brewer said. “GA had to change, but our mission has not changed.

“We change the world by changing our little corner of it, which is PC(USA).”

Timothy Wotring, moderator of the Peace Fellowship’s General Assembly Working Group, said in a news release, “We are living in a very challenging moment. The pandemic is so hard and our outrage at racial injustice runs so deep.  We want to do something creative to give people hope and new skills for action. It won’t be the same as a GA, but it will help us celebrate and amplify that Presbyterians care deeply about the peace and justice issues that the GA would have addressed.”

Each day of Peace Camp begins with an emailed devotional to all who are registered, as well as a link for the teach-in, vigil or action that is offered that day. Teach-ins will be offered on issues such as the history of Presbyterian social activism, gun violence prevention, as well as overcoming racism and climate change. Virtual vigils, worship and prayer will help participants mourn the loss and pain that our world is going through. Practicing love and care, even from a distance, will help participants imagine the new opportunities breaking through.

Peace Camp leadership will come from prominent Presbyterian leaders such as the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly, and Baltimore Presbytery’s Hands and Feet interns, Melva Lowry and Liv Thomas.

Participants can also hear from Bill McKibben, one of the world’s leading climate change experts and activists. McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, no longer travels using fossil fuels. He readily accepted a virtual role in Peace Camp. Musical leadership will be offered by Matthew Black, a Presbyterian and folk musician, whose latest album is “Lord’s Prayer/Unafraid.”

The Peace Breakfast will be at 11 a.m. Eastern Time June 24, with special guests dropping in from across the denomination, plus a keynote address by the Rev. José González-Colón, pastor, environmental justice leader, past moderator of the Synod of Boriquén, Puerto Rico, and, according to the PPF news release, “one of the most rousing preachers in the PC(USA).” His theme is “A Planet to Save and Very Little Time.”

The Peace Breakfast will also include the debut of video and slide presentations to bring to life the stories of the recipients of the Peace Fellowship’s annual Peaceseeker Award. Those awards go to:

While not being physically together at GA is disappointing, Brewer says there are silver linings, like being able to plan clearly for what happens after the assembly. For instance, PPF wants to launch a campaign for presbyteries interested in fossil fuel divestment.

“We know our work doesn’t end at the end of the week,” Brewer says. “We always ask, ‘What’s the next step?’”

Find more information at www.presbypeacefellowship.org/ppf-peacecamp. The first 200 to register will receive a “swag bag” of goodies almost as good as a regular GA.

Founded in 1944, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is a nationwide community of Presbyterians who act on the nonviolence of Jesus Christ to find alternatives to violence and war. For more information, contact Executive Director Rev. Emily Brewer at info@presbypeacefellowship.org or see www.presbypeacefellowship.org.

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