Ecumenical Team Hopes to Help Overcome Violence in US

Church leaders and communities facing situations of violence in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New Orleans will share their experiences with an international ecumenical team visiting the United States from 15-23 September.

Being from South Africa, Lebanon, Pakistan and Brazil the team members will express the solidarity of churches worldwide with the US churches while learning from their peacemaking efforts concerning urban and gun violence as well as environmental racism and the Iraq war.

The visit of the group, which is called "Living Letters," is part of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), an initiative promoting peaceful alternatives to violence.

Members of the team are a church leader, a public health specialist, a theologian and a human rights lawyer, each of them bringing personal experiences of violence and peacemaking from their societies.

"The purpose of these Living Letters visits is to create real encounters through which churches worldwide become increasingly aware of their struggles and hopes and are able to encourage and strengthen each other," says Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, a minister of the United Church of Christ (US) and the WCC president from the North American region.

Rev. Dr William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. said: "Peacemaking and reconciliation includes building stronger relationships within and outside of the churches and the United States that are responsive to the changing dynamic landscape of Christendom and the unrelenting violence in our world.

"By discussing and praying in small groups, sharing community meals and visiting homes and community centres, we hope the international ecumenical team visiting us will be able to get to the heartbeat of the peace work of the American churches," adds Powell-Jackson, commenting on the programme of the visit.

New York City (15-16 + 21 September)
By meeting an Arabic Lutheran congregation and Muslim leaders from its neighbourhood, the group will focus on violence and peacemaking efforts in the post 9/11 context of immigration to the US, especially issues affecting Arab and Middle Eastern communities.

On 21 September the team will attend an ecumenical event marking the International Day of Prayer for Peace. This WCC initiative calls on churches worldwide to pray for peace on 21 September, coinciding with the United Nations International Day of Peace.

Washington, D.C. (17-18 September)
In the wake of a key Congress hearing and a presidential address on the future of the US engagement in Iraq, the Iraq war - largely opposed by the WCC member churches in the US - will be one of the issues discussed with federal legislators and students.

Philadelphia (19-20 September)
Urban violence will be the focus of this stage of the visit, hosted by Rev. Shaw's White Rock Baptist Church, which belongs to the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., the largest African-American denomination.

New Orleans (22-23 September)
The group will get a glimpse of the myriad forms of violence festering in this disaster area and will learn about reconstruction and violence eradication efforts from interfaith groups, church leaders and artists.

The WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) - Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010) is a global church movement that strives to strengthen existing efforts and networks for overcoming violence, as well as to inspire the creation of new ones.

The Living Letters teams are part of what is expected to become a major worldwide mobilisation of churches for peace that will culminate with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held as conclusion of the DOV in early May 2011.

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