“There’s something in the water among Mennonite theologians and peace building scholars and practitioners…around the decolonial project that people are drinking from now that is interesting and quite good,” says Andrew Suderman.
The Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) professor and secretary of Mennonite World Conference’s Peace Commission organized the third Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival (GMP III) in Virginia, USA. “Coming Together: The Journey of Faith and Peace” was the theme of the 15-18 June 2023 event organized by EMU and endorsed by MWC.
The four plenary speakers included Tigist Tesfaye, MWC Deacons Commission secretary, and César García, MWC general secretary. Some 160 participants from 20 countries participated in 10 presentations of papers, 15 workshops, a panel discussion, an art installation and four theatre and music performances. Difficulties obtaining travel permission prevented some international guests from attending.
Scholarship and worship came together at the conference. “We unabashedly housed the conference within worship,” says Andrew Suderman. Each plenary session opened and closed with a time of prayer and singing.
César García urged participants bring together church and peace work despite the former’s past mistakes: “Creating structures that are completely independent and separated from the church is an unnecessary detour that affects the impact of our peace witness…. The need of peace work that is theologically and biblically grounded is an ongoing reality in many of our churches and institutions.”
Art and performance also came together with theology and theory. “The idea for this GMP was to bring together academics, practitioners, pastors and artists to share with one another what they’re working on, how they are working toward embodying peace,” says Andrew Suderman. “Musicians and a theatre group help give expression to these values, to this journey…to connect head, hands and heart.”
Music and peace also come together says Juan Moya, member of La Repvblica, a band from Colombia that performed. “[Music] depends on vibrations, rhythms and poetry to convey a message. It is a universal language.” The barrier-crossing, peacebuilding capacity of music was demonstrated as MWC president Henk Stenvers from the Netherlands joined the Colombia band on the drums.
As a global conference, the event also brought together voices from around the world. “I appreciated the emphasis on listening to and involving people from the Global South, who shared how peace is not only taught as a concept but also suffered, demanded and – for some – becomes a call to action in order to survive,” says Juan Moya.
A compilation of papers from the previous GMP in the Netherlands in 2019 were recently published as A Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: Global Mennonite Perspectives on Peacebuilding and Nonviolence.