Let’s Pray for Peace Better

PrayerForPeaceMy congregation in downtown Toronto is not a young congregation. We have two of the little supplemental hymnals, but it’s a rare Sunday that we sing any hymns out of either of them.  When we aren’t sticking to the familiar old Hymns of the Saints hymnal, the speaker usually makes a special effort to explain that the hymn can be found in the little gold hymnal (almost to prepare the congregation that we are about to enter a strange, foreign land).*

However, there is one “new” Community of Christ tradition that my congregation has successfully incorporated into our weekly service: the Prayer for Peace. I’m a big proponent of this part of our worship because I believe it is done with a very positive goal and it is a practice that unites Community of Christ as a denomination, allowing all of us to use the temple as a focal point for good everywhere in the world even when we’re individually far away from it.

Because the Prayer for Peace is newer and less familiar than other parts of the service, members of my congregation have less of a sense of it and are more likely to read materials from the church’s website verbatim than they are, say, with the sermon or the Disciples Generous Response.  Unfortunately, I feel that the material provided by the church falls short of the Prayer for Peace’s potential in a couple key ways:

The first problem I have is with the Prayer for Peace Calendar.  We definitely want to be inclusive of all the countries in the world and all the peoples of the world who aren’t recognized nations, and those can be spread across our 365 days in the Temple. But most of us aren’t yet doing this every day (like they do in the Temple); most of us only do this weekly on Sundays. With that in mind, I think it makes sense to schedule some of the countries that could use more attention on Sundays (for example, Syria could clearly use some extra attention right now). Two weeks ago, San Marino got a Sunday. I don’t want to suggest that anyone in the world would not benefit from prayer.  However, there are only 52 Sundays a year.  Devoting 1/52nd of the denomination’s annual focus on world peace to San Marino seems like miscalibration of the calendar.  Perhaps Syria could be scheduled for a Sunday and San Marino for sometime Monday-Saturday?

I’d actually like to shake up the calender more than that.  We have essentially produced the schedule as a national roster for several years, with just a couple days here and there for “Indigenous Peoples of North America” or “Children of the World.”  Going forward, I would like to have a lot more of the latter at the expense of the national roster. In order to give more attention to indigenous peoples who aren’t recognized as internationally sovereign or to groups and classes of people in the world who do not experience peace and justice, I think we should begin to combine nations into groupings. In other words, if all “Indigenous Peoples of Africa” get only one day — which it’s very good that they get one — we might decide to group “European Micro-States” (San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Vatican City) on one day. Although they might seem to get less attention that way, we might actually benefit by considering the special needs that peoples in micro-states have by grouping them. Likewise, we might want to have regional groups (e.g. Scandinavia, Lesser Antilles, central West Africa), again so that we can focus more. For us in Canada, having just one day to focus on (all) “Indigenous peoples of North America” (on a Wednesday this year), is probably not enough.

I feel that the resources for the “Invitation” to the Prayer for Peace also routinely fall short of their potential to make the practice meaningful.  Consider, for example, last week’s “Invitation” to pray for Cambodia, provided on the church’s website:

Today we remember the people of Cambodia in our prayers. The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. Rebuilding from decades of civil war, Cambodia has seen rapid progress in the economical and human resource areas. Strong textiles, agriculture, construction, garments, and tourism sectors led to foreign investments and international trade. In 2005, oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia’s territorial waters, and the oil revenues could profoundly affect Cambodia’s economy.

That was read word-for-word in my congregation.  Cambodia is a country that definitely has some recent history and current issues that could be highlighted in a world peace context.  But heard very little about those things.  Instead the Invitation read like something taken from the CIA world factbook or a global investors guide to the Cambodian petroleum industry.  I don’t want to hear about GNP and the export of textiles — unless we focus on a peace and justice issue (such as underage workers in textile factories). Can’t we find the words and experiences of an individual Cambodian or two, having lived through their horrific civil war, and/or where they are today, to teach us inspiring lessons about world peace?

Looking ahead to the next couple Sundays, we’re praying for Australia (March 31) and then Sierra Leone (April 7). The materials aren’t yet online for the latter, but we do have the Invitation for the former. Although the text notes that “Community of Christ has been established in Australia since 1840,” there are apparently no stories about that 170+ year experience.  Instead we read that:

The dispute of replacing Britain’s queen with an Australian president as head of state remains an issue of concern, but the government has yet to make a definitive statement. Australia’s multicultural inhabitants and visitors enjoy the natural beauty from the top of snow-cloaked mountains to the coral reefs in the bottom of the sea.

I’m very certain that people in Australia need our prayers for peace and justice issues (since everyone in the world does), but our invitation seems to miss the mark.  Considering that we have a well-established, multi-generational presence in Australia, would it be possible for anyone in the church in Australia to write a few sentences about what members there are doing to work to achieve peace and justice in their nation?

I don’t know who at headquarters is in charge of creating the Prayer for Peace materials.  I do know that everyone at headquarters has a thousand, thousand, thankless jobs, and no time to do any of them.  So, my criticism here is not meant to attack anyone or to complain in vain.  Complaining is easy; we all see problems.  What we need is for everyone to pitch in and help to provide solutions in a constructive way.  One way I’m intending to help out is by working on alternate Invitation and Prayer for Peace materials, which I’ll post here and on the Beyond the Farthest Hills Church Resources blog.  Any help readers here might contribute is also welcome.  For example, if you’re a member of the church in Australia, we’d love to hear from you in the next couple days so that we can share your story in our congregations.

Let’s all pitch in so that we can pray for peace better.


*I’m looking forward to the new Community of Christ hymnal, but I do think as a whole my congregation will have to go through a lot of deliberate effort to learn to love it.


Sin & the Cross, and Why We Need Them

I want to share my recent blog post: The Cross, or Why We Need It.  It is on my blog.  I take on the dominant view of the cross about personal salvation and sin. My testimony is that the cross is a witness from the ancients about life in empire, the fate of God, & human relationships. I welcome your comments.

(Click to go to mattfrizzell.com)

For Churches Interested in Supporting Peace in Northern Uganda

Due to the sudden interest in the conflicts in Central Africa, particularly Uganda, caused by the highly problematic film from Invisible Children, I am sure that many congregations are showing interest in supporting peacebuilding in the region.

I have compiled a list of better ways to donate money and stand in solidarity with the people of Uganda.

Would a CofC Bishop Get Arrested for Occupy Wall Street?

I was at Duarte Square, Lower Manhattan, this afternoon as retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, and several other clergy were arrested supporting Occupy Wall Street’s attempt to start a new occupation on land owned by Trinity Church Wall Street. For a video of him talking with protestors in the back of an NYPD paddywagon, click here.

“I am still baffled that the Episcopal Church of which I have been a member all my life could not–through Trinity–find some way to embrace these thousands of young people in our very diminishing ranks,” said Bishop Packard, the former bishop for the armed services, on his blog, Occupied Bishop.

Packard is not the only high-ranking Episcopal leader who has supported the movement. In an open letter to Occupy Wall Street, anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and former Deacon at Trinity Church, said:

“Injustice, unfairness, and the strangle hold of greed which has beset humanity in our times must be answered with a resounding, ‘No!’ You are that answer. I write this to you not many miles away from the houses of the poor in my country. It pains me despite all the progress we have made. You see, the heartbeat of what you are asking for–that those who have too much must wake up to the cries of their brothers and sisters who have so little–beats in me and all South Africans who believe in justice.”

To watch a video of interfaith leaders addressing the Occupiers at Duarte Square today, click here.

Do you think Community of Christ clergy should join the Occupy Movement? How should the church more generally interact with the Occupy Movement?

[Updated 19 December 2011]

Do we need an Occupy C of C Movement? A Response

[This thoughtful post was written by Jim Craft, in response to the earlier post by Matthew Bolton: “How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement?” — Ed.]

During the last few months, we have been bombarded with images of fellow citizens camped out in public parks around the nation. Most of the attention has focused on a group in Manhattan which is called “Occupy Wall Street”. This group has taken their grievances to the people they feel are responsible for whatever ills society is suffering from today, Wall Street.

What I have noticed is that the message isn’t entirely clear. When the protests first started, I was listening to a broadcast from Dave Ramsey while driving back to my office from a rural courthouse. Mr. Ramsey was having audience members who identified with the Occupy movement call in and explain what and why they were protesting or considering themselves members of this group. There was absolutely no clear consensus among ANY of the callers why they were protesting, other than they were just “mad” about the way things were going for them. Almost none of them could explain the economic injustices they were protesting, or even what they were experiencing.

Continue reading

How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement?

…it is incumbent upon the Saints … to be in the world but not of it, … using the things of this world in the manner designed of God, that the places where they occupy may shine as Zion, the redeemed of the Lord. Condensed from Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 128:8b, 8c.

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers den.” Matthew 21:12-16.

“It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!” says Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who this week called for the creation of a “church sanctuary for the Occupy Movement.

Continue reading

Welcome All

Two Sundays ago I was invited to preach a sermon on the theme “Welcome All” at a congregation in Independence. It was just a few days after the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York State and so I felt compelled to preach on the importance of the Community of Christ becoming a welcoming church for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I also wanted to use the opportunity to publicly apologize for my own homophobia, which as a young adult I had accepted uncritically from those who had given me religious instruction. I show that the church has often struggled to be prophetic on human equality, using examples of race and the American Civil Rights movement. I call on Community of Christ congregations to become inclusive churches.

I wrote up a summary of my sermon for my column in The Examiner (Independence, MO). Click here to read it.

Terry Tempest Williams to Receive Community of Christ Peace Award

Terry Tempest Williams, a Utah-based environmental activist with a Mormon heritage, will receive the Community of Christ Peace Award on 21 October 2011 at the church’s Peace Colloquy on “Creating Hope, Healing Earth” in Independence, Missouri. See the official announcement here. A list of previous awardees is here.

Her website says Williams believes “environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice” and asks the question, “what might a different kind of power look like, feel like, and can power be redistributed equitably even beyond our own species?”

Williams is currently Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah.

Veazey Blogs about Pilgrimage to Hiroshima

Community of Christ President Steve Veazey has a new blog and has been posting reflections on his experiences visiting the city of Hiroshima:

The scenes at the Peace Memorial Museum will haunt me for the rest of my life, as they certainly should. May I never forget them. If enough people could see what we saw and feel what we felt our mindset would change. We would do whatever is necessary to ensure that nuclear weapons (which a many, many times more powerful today) would never be used again for the sakes of all of our children and grandchildren.

The first article in the series is here. Click here for the second.

Veazey’s thoughts remind me of the following comments made by the late Charles D. Neff in a 1982 World Conference sermon, in which he called on the church to take a courageous stand against nuclear weapons:

My friends, I was in Hiroshima just a few weeks after an atomic bomb was dropped from an American military airplane onto that city. What I saw and felt there is indelibly etched into my mind, my heart, my soul. The stark reality of death and despair everywhere in Hiroshima in 1945 is indescribable.

Readers may also be interested to know that a retired Community of Christ minister and former editor of the church’s magazine, The Herald, Jim Hannah, was arrested at an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration in September this year. The charges against him were recently dropped and spoke at an anti-nuclear weapons rally earlier this month. To read Hannah’s justification for his participation in non-violent direct action against nuclear armament, click here.

For a previous discussion on this blog of the Community of Christ and nuclear weapons, click here.