EPF: The Voice of Conscience for 81 Years

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.

Prayers for Peace Sabbath

Leader: As we incline our hearts and minds toward justice and peace in our world, in our nation and in our community, let us hear the words of the psalmist:
If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.  (a moment of silence)
Leader: Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.
People: Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader:  Let us hear the call of scripture to the mission of all the baptized:
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.  (a moment of silence)
People:  Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: Holy and life-giving God: send your reconciling Spirit to visit us. Live and move and have being in every human heart. Do your work among your people—crumbling the barriers that divide us, stemming the violence that pervades our country and our world, bringing an end to the hatreds and the hostilities that break your loving purpose. Heal our brokenness, O God, that we may live in harmony as one people.
People:  Send your reconciling spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.

Leader:  Creating God: you made us in your own image; you made us for peace. And yet too often we choose to live in ways that destroy the very humanity you intend for us. Call forth in us that which is of you. Grant us the courage and perseverance to embody your peaceful ways in ourselves and in our relationships with one another.
People:  Send your abiding spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.
Leader: Mothering God: you gather the suffering in your loving embrace. Come and dwell with those who have lost loved ones to the violence of our world. Comfort them in every affliction. With tenderness, console them in the hours of their need. In your compassion, and by your mercy, heal their torn hearts and lives—and restore them to fullness of life.
People:  Send your comforting spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.

Leader: Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.
People: Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Leader: Discerning God: you know our hearts, and from you no secrets are hidden. You know the impulse to anger that lies within us and the urge to strike out. Call us to recognize all within us that would break your people. Lead us away from anger towards a deeper love. Strengthen our resolve to live as your compassion, your peace, and your reconciling love in all that we say and in all that we do.
People:  Send your forgiving spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.

Leader:  God of our redemption: our cities and our streets have become places of war and violence. Our schools and our homes have moved from places of safety and sustenance to places of fear and anxiety. Let us not be silent. Create in us such a desire for civility, such a longing for peace, such a love for our neighbor that we will not be stopped in our efforts to restore our neighborhoods and our towns. Raise up among your faithful people a common desire to redeem all that you have entrusted to us. Make us bold for peace.
People:  Send your redeeming spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.

Leader: Loving God: you love every person that you have made and call us to do the same. Give us the wisdom and grace to be close to all who suffer: in body, mind, spirit or relationship. Give us the courage to be present to those who live in isolation; to comfort those whom no one comforts; to see those whose pain we would rather not see. Give us ministering hearts and healing hands. Turn our lives and the lives of our churches and communities to seek those who need to see your love in our eyes.
People:  Send your loving spirit of peace and justice upon us and the world you have entrusted into our care.

Leader: Prince of Peace: you challenge us when we seek a shallow justice—when we cry “Peace, peace”—when there is no peace. Give courage to those who seek your purposes; who challenge and address the truth of our violent ways. In the struggle to reduce gun violence, stand with those who keep covenant with you to protect the lives of every person. Uphold them in their work by your grace, that we may be known as people of peace, as lovers of justice.

Leader and People (unison) Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Give your people peace. Come, oh Lord, and set us free; Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer litany adapted from The Washington National Cathedral’s Gun Sabbath Prayers,
March 15, 2013.

Opportunity to serve Episcopal Peace Fellowship as a member of our National Executive Council (NEC)

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: epfactnow@gmail.com.

Respect the Dignity of Every Human Being: Changing Policing in America

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.

Statement on Potential for Election Day Gun Violence

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.