During March 2022 the World Methodist Peace Prize was presented in Europe three times. In this article Bishop Rosemarie Wenner (Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council) shares about the recipients of this prize and challenges Methodists in Europe to consider what it means to be peacemakers.
Peace is probably one of the most used words since the invasion of the Russian Forces into Ukraine started on February 24. Politicians, people of faith in all religions, and of course ordinary people discern how to stop the war, pray for peace and seek to work towards peace. Where are we – the people called Methodists – in these debates, prayers, and actions?
We claim to belong to those who are peacemakers. We refer to John Wesley, who, although he was not a pacifist, looked upon war as against all “reason and virtue”, against all “common sense and common humanity.” (The citation is taken from a treatise of John Taylor that John Wesley edited 1757: “The Doctrine of Original Sin According to Scripture, Reason, and Experience”). We affirm, what was stated in the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches 1948, that war is “contrary to the will of God”. And we confess in the Social Affirmation of the World Methodist Council: “We commit ourselves individually and as a community to the way of Christ: to take up the cross; to seek abundant life for all humanity; to struggle for peace with justice and freedom; to risk ourselves in faith, hope, and love, praying that God’s kingdom may come.”
What does all of this mean now in the face of a terrible war middle in Europe?
During March 2022, the World Methodist Council presented its Peace Award to three recipients. What a coincidence and what an opportunity to reflect on the calling to be peacemakers. March 4, Millicent Yambasu, the spouse of the late United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, received the Peace Award at the Annual Conference in Bo, Sierra Leone. Bishop Yambasu was posthumously honored for his commitment to overcome poverty, to stay with his people in difficult times like the Ebola crisis and to work for peace within Sierra Leone and beyond. March 13, a second United Methodist was honored in Tallin, Estonia: Rev. Olav Pärnamets, a retired clergy and former superintendent, served with courage and creativity when Estonia was under Soviet occupation and continued to build bridges after 1990: Rev Pärnamets led a conference that serves all, regardless of nationality or language group. There are Russian speaking congregations within the UMC in Estonia, which testifies: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile”, neither Estonian nor Russian… “all are one in Christ Jesus.”
March 18, I was privileged to take part in a celebration in Sheffield, UK, that was originally scheduled for March 20, 2020. It could not take place since then because of the Pandemic. We presented the 2018 WMC Peace Award to Rev. Inderjit Bhogal from the Methodist Church in Britain. He was honored because of his livelong commitment to peace, to inter religious dialogue and to create “sanctuaries” – safe places, where refugees and migrants are treated with dignity and love.
Inderjit Bhogal’s speech at the ceremony was a strong plea to act out of a heart of peace towards everybody. He invited us to cooperate with him “to call leaders of nations, and all faiths and ideologies to come together and work with each other 1)to build a world without war, a world where we “learn war no more” 2) to build a world without weapons of war, non-nuclear, where we learn together to resolve conflict with the art of nonviolence, and invest in instruments of healing not harming, and foster reconciliation 3) to build a world that learns the art of sanctuary, which is warm welcome, protective hospitality and safety, especially with the most vulnerable.”
This goes far beyond the help for refugees from the Ukraine, as important it is to protect them. All those who suffer from war, conflicts, violence and poverty, no matter where they might come from and what skin color they might have, need our support. It also goes far beyond our engagement to pray for peace, as important these prayers are. We must also work for systemic changes. Inderjit Bhogal spoke of the need to divert money and investment from war to the ending of poverty and tackling climate change and pollution, since he sees poverty as the primary form of violence and cause of conflict, as well as the biggest killer. Learning the art of sanctuary is a good starting point for those who wish to be peacemakers.
A sanctuary is a safe place for all who need support and fellowship, a place where meals and stories are shared, a place where differences are received as means to grow in love, a place where God is honored because those present see God’s image in the face of the other, as strange as this person might be.
Several gospel stories come to my mind: Jesus, engaging in a theological conversation with the woman at Jacob’s well; Jesus, teaching his disciples to share a few loafs of bread and some fish so that are all fed; Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples, including Judas, who soon betrayed him… – By his example Jesus teaches us the art of sanctuary.
As Methodists, we have a special gift to share in this effort: We are interwoven in connections that transcend national boundaries. The network within the European Methodist Council is more then a structure. We engage in personal relationships and church partnerships to support one another especially in such a severe crisis like the war in the Ukraine. Are we ready to generously make use of our connection, not just to support Methodist peers, but to expand the network of care and solidarity?
The long list of the recipients of the World Methodist Council Peace Prize can be found on www.worldmethodistcouncil.org. These people give witness to a global network of peacemakers. None of these persons worked alone. They were and are all part of a community of saints that inspired, nourished, and supported them, as much as they encouraged others. Let us follow their examples as we follow Christ Jesus, for “he is our peace; in his flesh he has…broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” In Christ, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2, 14 and 19, NRSV)
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
World Methodist Council
5 April 2022