Peacemaking at Forest Hill Church
Some of the earliest activism that set Forest Hill apart as a congregation dedicated to social justice was its commitment to peacemaking initiatives.
The racial unrest of the 1960s and the Vietnam War in the 1970s triggered a commitment to building bridges among people and nations. The AIDS epidemic and growing intolerance of LGBT individuals led Forest Hill to involvement in The Covenant Network and leading the effort to ordain LGBT pastors and lay leaders.
The annual offering for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is received on World Communion Sunday. Recognizing that each is essential to the other, the Peacemaking Program supports ministries to alleviate conflict, end abuses, and build trust at home and abroad.
The Ministry of Justice & Mission allocates 25% of the Peacemaking Offering for Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a ministry to the Palestinian community of Bethlehem run by The International Center of Bethlehem. Forest Hill pilgrims visited the center during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009. For more information, see the Bright Stars of Bethlehem website.
Commitment to Peacemaking at Forest Hill Church
Article by Mark Chupp of the Ministry of Justice and Mission, which first appeared on the PC(USA) website
Twenty-five years ago Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, made a formal commitment to peacemaking through a statement approved by Session. Recognizing that our country is not at peace today and the threats to peace in the world have changed dramatically, the congregation decided to update its commitment to peacemaking. Forest Hill Church, in keeping with the similar commitments of the General Assembly, re-covenanted in October 2006 to be a peacemaking congregation.
The Ministry of Justice and Mission provided oversight to an ad hoc group to draft a new peacemaking statement and then shepherded it through until its approval by the Session. The ad hoc group consisted of a number of members who met to discuss and assess the peacemaking concerns of our day and to reflect on the call to peacemaking in the Bible. Each member of the group then developed a draft, which served as the basis for creating a joint statement that incorporated everyone’s contribution. The ad hoc group sent this draft to the ministry of Justice and Mission and to the pastors. Together with the ministry, the ad hoc group revised the statement to reflect feedback and additional suggestions. The ministry eventually approved and sent the statement to Session, who approved the statement after minor revisions.
The Peacemaking Statement includes a number of themes relevant to the current threats to peace:
–Meeting of basic human needs for all people
–Bridging the gaps that exist between people, loving our neighbor as ourselves, valuing differences and seeking reconciliation and healing
–Recognizing that our security ultimately rests on the power of God’s love, instead of relying on force
–Seeking a just peace characterized by equality and sustainability, economic justice and a reduction in materialism
–Protecting the ecological integrity of the earth, being responsible stewards of the air, water and natural resources, and countering excessive human exploitation of our natural environment
–Promoting respect for all humanity, where physical, mental, spiritual and social needs are met and all truly have the opportunity to flourish to the highest potential God intends.
Once approved by the Session, members of the Ministry of Justice and Mission visited each of the other ministries to learn how they were living out the congregation’s commitment to peacemaking and to encourage additional ways they could support peace throughout the year. All the ministries identified specific things they were already doing to promote peace, such as the Trustees buying the pastor a hybrid car and putting additional insulation into the church building.
The Ministry of Justice and Mission announced the renewed commitment in a Minute for Mission on a Sunday morning. The statement was inserted into the bulletin so that each person could have a copy to take home. That Sunday and the following Sunday all members and regular visitors were invited to make a public commitment by signing the Peacemaking Statement as they left worship. The lists of collected signatures were then posted on the Ministry of Justice and Mission kiosk in the fellowship hall so that others could sign it.
In the following months, the Ministry of Justice and Mission promoted peacemaking among the congregation through articles in the monthly FHC newsletter, “The Tower,” where the Peacemaking Statement was included along with an invitation to nominate another member who is actively promoting peace. The Peacemaking Statement was also posted on the FHC Web site.
The Ministry of Justice and Mission then began educating the congregation and asking for their active participation in each aspect of peacemaking. For instance, Christian education includes an annual series on peacemaking for the mid-high Sunday school class. In focusing on the theme of ecological integrity and peace with the earth, more than 75 people attended a showing of An Inconvenient Truth and afterward broke into small groups to discuss specific actions each person could take. Participants then wrote their personal commitment on a paper leaf, which together made up the foliage of a tree placed on the wall of the fellowship hall.
At a time when our country is heavily involved in multiple wars and when fear of terrorism abounds, the congregation felt the need to speak to our Christian commitment to peace. Rather than simply take an anti-war position, the comprehensive statement affirms our commitment to peace in the many areas where it is needed.