By Rev. Bob Davidson, EPF National Chair
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) began as The Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship on November 11, 1939, Armistice Day. Founders among others were William Appleton Lawrence, Bishop of Western Massachusetts, Mrs. Henry Hill Pierce of New York, and John Nevin Sayre, also of New York. It is to Rev. Sayre that today’s EPF owes a debt of gratitude for his visionary and tireless leadership to convene the early founders of this organization. Each three years the John Nevin Sayre Award is given to nominees who demonstrate this same passion for peacemaking and justice.
Another icon of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, for whom a legacy society is named, is the Rt. Rev. Paul Jones (1880-1941). Bishop Jones was ordained and served a mission church in Logan, Utah. In 1914 he was made Bishop of the Missionary District of Utah. He was an outspoken pacifist, and when World War I began in 1914, he spoke against it. As the war progressed, and when the United States entered the war in 1917, many Americans were vehement in holding that pursuing the war was a moral duty, and opposition to the war was immoral. In the spring of 1918, yielding to pressure, Bishop Jones resigned as Bishop of Utah. He continued to speak out within the Church as an advocate of peace and the Christian renunciation of war.
An early statement of commitment to the purposes of EPF read, “In loyalty to the person, teachings and Lordship of Jesus Christ, my conscience commits me to His way of redemptive love; to pray, study and work for peace, and to renounce, so far as is possible, participation in war, militarism and all other forms of violence.”
The early years were occupied by building the organization, relating to the interdenominational Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and developing an annual conference (first at Bucksteep in the Berkshires, and later at Seabury House, Greenwich, Connecticut). Efforts were begun to get resolutions passed by General Convention, the triennial legislative assembly of the Episcopal Church, and Lambeth Conference, the every-ten-years meeting of all Anglican Bishops from around the world. The Lambeth Conference had already passed in 1930 a rather famous statement which included the phrase: “War as a means of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and principle of our Savior Jesus Christ” which EPF has built upon in advocating for similar statements from the General Convention. The publication of Cross Before Flag outlines over sixty years of statements and resolutions of the General Convention and Lambeth Conference.
This statement has been reiterated by Lambeth every ten years since l948. A Pilgrimage to Canterbury, England, at the time of the Lambeth Conference, in cooperation with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship has taken place at the last three Lambeth Conferences. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship is considered the American branch of the Anglican Peace Fellowship (as it is now known) along with the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN).
In 1966 EPF established a full-time staff person as Executive Director, and in the same year, on the eve of the Vietnam War, changed its name to Episcopal Peace Fellowship and altered its commitment statement to accommodate peacemakers who were not necessarily pacifists. Under leadership of a National Executive Committee (NEC) and the Executive Director, EPF has continued with its program and activities to the present, working with various commissions of the General Convention and with ecumenical and other peace partners. In more recent times, efforts have been made to establish local Chapters of EPF throughout the Church and to have Action Groups on a national basis to learn and discuss such topics as Conscientious Objection, Death Penalty Abolition, Drone Warfare, Gun Violence Prevention and Young Adults.
The NEC is elected by the membership, meets twice annually, elects officers, and administers program and maintain contacts with the official Episcopal Church structure, the Anglican Church Networks, and ecumenical peace efforts. The current national Chair of the National Executive Committee is the Rev. Bob Davidson. Melanie Atha is the current Executive Director.
A more extensive history of EPF is to be found in “The Voice of Conscience: A Loud and Unusual Noise?” by Nathaniel W. Pierce and Paul L. Ward, published by Charles River Publishing, Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1989. "Bishop Paul Jones: Witness for Peace" by John Howard Melish, published by Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio is another useful resource.
Are you dedicated to striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being? If so, EPF would love to have your energy and vision for putting that dedication into action. Between now and November 30, 2020, we are accepting applications for service on our NEC. This is a three year obligation. After three years of service, you would be eligible to be re-elected to serve for another three year term. Your term would begin in 2021. Accepting this nomination means that you would be responsible for the following, should you be elected to serve by the current members of the NEC.
+ Pray, study, act. You agree to follow and exemplify EPFs mission through living into your baptismal covenant to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every person.
+ Committees. EPF and the NEC have four committees: membership, sustainability, programming and communications. You will agree to serve on one committee and to be in regular contact with other committee members to accomplish the purposes of the committee and EPF.
+ Development. You will agree to promote EPF’s financial, membership and organizational development, on local, regional and national level. You agree to contribute money to EPF every month at a level which is compatible with your personal financial situation.
+ Nonviolence. You agree to seek ways of resolving conflict in nonviolent ways, and to promote peace, justice and nonviolence in your personal, professional and spiritual life
+ Stewardship. You will be a good steward of EPF through careful decisions about programs, finances and policy.
Interested? Please let EPF Executive Director Melanie Atha know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Offered by Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart
I’ve had to truly re-think what it means to be Black and Episcopal, particularly in these times of civil uprising, racial unrest, and falsehoods coming from the President of this country being accepted as truth. What is the role of the Church, the Episcopal Church in speaking out, advocating for the humanity of her Black members? Where is the church on the conflict that continues between the police and African Americans those who are Episcopalians and those who are not? There are times, most times, when I find myself conflicted, particularly when it comes to the issue of policing and its role in maintaining a racist society. I am conflicted because I spent twenty years as a police officer in Washington, DC, and the next thirty, studying, teaching, and consulting on police and race. I am conflicted because I am Black and get nervous when I see a police car behind me. I am conflicted because I have a Black son and nephews with whom I have had “The Talk.” You know, “the talk,” how to be Black in America and survive an encounter with the police. The talk, a conversation the majority of white parents never have with their children. And so, while I speak out against policing as it was created and continues to function—to surveil and control black and brown bodies-- I must also face my role – knowingly and unknowingly -- in maintaining that system – a system that has disproportionately and continues to negatively affect the life chances of people who look like me. I must ask how my faith now guides any discussion of what must be done.
“Respect the dignity of every human being”—Book of Common Prayer
Respecting the dignity of Black people and seeing Black people as human beings has never been part of the mission and goal of American policing. From slave patrols to Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (who murdered George Floyd) to mass incarceration, black people have been the fodder of the American criminal justice system. From what was considered a crime (running away from the plantation was theft), to initial contacts with the police (driving, walking, breathing, sleeping while black), to processing (sentencing disparities for Blacks and whites), to mass incarceration (slavery has just evolved according to Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson), the aim of the criminal justice system has been to maintain white supremacy, to keep white space white (President Trump’s not-so-veiled attempt to garner support from white suburban housewives by poorly hinting that he will keep those suburbs white), to ensure that Blacks were not (are not) seen as human beings and therefore have “no rights a white man is bound to respect.” And, yet, we as Episcopalians are called to “respect the dignity of every human being” and perhaps therein lies the problem. Do the mass of Episcopalians see Blacks as human beings, the carriers and reflectors of God’s image? Somehow, we must see each other as fully human and live in a way that makes God truly visible. It is more than going to church; it is more than beautiful liturgies. To respect the dignity of every human being, we must eliminate any and all barriers that keep God’s people from being all they can be; break down all barriers that keep God’s children of ebony grace from being fully human. We are called to destroy any barriers that keep any of God’s children from being able to live full lives and to be free to love others as Jesus loves us. Retired bishop John Shelby Spong offers, “I experience God as life. The God who is the source of life causes me to worship God by living – by living fully. The more fully I can live, the more I make God visible and I experience God as the source of love calling me to love, freeing me to love. The more fully, the more gracefully I can give my love away, I believe I can make God visible.” The Church is being called to be make God visible by destroying a system that denies humanity to God’s black and brown children; that keeps them from living fully, from loving fully.
There have been calls for the abolition and/or defunding of American policing. American policing denies the humanity of God’s black and brown children. American policing is a barrier to living fully; to being fully human; therefore, it must be abolished. The problem with either word -- abolition or defunding is that people jump to their own conclusions and/or definitions of what the terms mean. To abolish the police does not mean the elimination of policing. There are people who make decisions not to play by the rules society has established and when those rules are broken, they must be stopped; that’s what arrest means – to stop. Abolition in this context means to abolish the police as they were created (to surveil and control black and brown bodies) and continue to act (to surveil and control black and brown bodies) and establish a system that serves and protects all. It is difficult to change direction if you keep going in a straight line and that is what has occurred over the years under the mantra of police reform. The decision must be made to “stop” and then create a system that is truly based on justice. It is not easy; however, it can be done. Community policing was an attempt to do this; however, community policing was overlaid on a diseased system and became diseased itself.
Part of abolition and re-creating American policing is de-funding, although a better term would be re-allocation of funds. Defunding, like abolition frightens people because it has either not been defined or applied in a manner that invites failure. There are any number of tasks or functions the police perform that do not require law enforcement authority. The problem is that for most cities, the police are the only agency available 24/7. As we look at re-creating the police in a manner that serves all, an analysis of the functions of the police is undertaken and those tasks that do not require law enforcement authority are diverted to agencies or organizations that are better prepared to handle them. Once those tasks have been identified and the agencies/organizations prepared to assume those functions (to include possible 24/7 response), the police department budget is then adjusted and those monies identified with the tasks transferred are re-allocated to the receiving agencies/organizations. Is it easy? No. Can it be done? Yes. What is usually missing is the will to change and that pressure must come from outside policing because police departments are not change agents – they are to maintain the status quo and, in this country, it is a racist status quo.
As a person of faith, who truly believes in what I promised to do – to respect the dignity of every human being -- -is it imperative that we dismantle a system that has at its core the dehumanization of black and brown people; that denies the imago Dei. This must be a priority for the church. In addition to marching, praying, and preaching; we must be engaged in dismantling a system of oppression. Whenever God’s justice is being denied to God’s people, whenever it is being perverted, the church, the Body of Christ, must be in the forefront of changing that system and the time to start is now.
Offered by Gun Violence Prevention Action Group Convener, Bob Lotz
The potential for political gun violence in the next days and perhaps weeks is palpable.
The EPF Gun Violence Prevention Group is usually witnessing, praying and advocating for an end to the violence that derives from the vast quantity of firearms sloshing around in this country, and for whatever sensible limits can be placed on the availability of these things.
Not this week, however. In the run-up to the election, we call on everyone to be prepared to oppose any attempt to stop the vote count or prematurely call the results. We may need to ask our congregations, friends and colleagues to speak and act to prevent armed militia groups from blocking access to the polis. We may need to pray and seek ways to prevent armed men from using their weapons to disrupt the nation and prevent a new President from taking office.
In Michigan last week, President Trump "joked" about a President-elect Biden being shot within 3 weeks To whom was he calling?
The police murder in Philadelphia this past weekend shows that law enforcement has learned nothing and changed not at all through this summer's protests against extrajudicial killings. We saw in Kenosha that the police were friendly to the armed right-wing men who came ready to kill, but violent toward the unarmed protesters. The Oath Keepers militia brags that their membership includes sworn law enforcement officers. We cannot rely on police to ensure a peaceful transition of power. We must pray now, and be prepared to witness, advocate and act in defense of democracy.
Our friends at Waging Nonviolence have prepared a plan, Seven Tactics to Stop a Coup. We offer it for your consideration. Another organization, which includes EPF participation, is organizing rallies for Nov. 4 to Protect the Results. Find an event near you.
Help us, O God, in the middle of our struggles for justice and peace, to confront without hatred or bitterness those who are intent upon violence. May we all see the vision of Your kingdom coming near, and cast aside our divisions. We pray this in the name and spirit of Jesus, who brought and still brings this vision among us.
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