We had spent eight months planning the weekend. I just hoped that it would all go well and that people attending would be inspired to strengthen their witness to peace and nonviolence. And that they would see Jesus in a different light – through nonviolent spectacles and that that would deepen their faith and Christian commitment.
Driving up to Perth I had both speakers in the back of my car – that was one anxiety laid to rest. I had heard John Dear previously and found him an inspiring speaker. Listening to him on the Saturday reinforced this view. If other human beings, created in the image of God are our brothers and sisters, then how can loving them involve killing them? How can the Church, the people of God, reclaim a perspective that sees Jesus himself looking at us out of another’s eyes? How can Christians gather round altars and then go out to prepare to destroy each other?
But often what stops Christians is anxiety that nonviolence will not always ‘work’ and that violence may be necessary – not in self-defence but to defend weak and helpless people. So it was fascinating to hear Lucas of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation talking about what was being done nonviolently by Christians and others in conflict areas such as the South Sudan, Colombia and Israel/Palestine.
Nonviolence was more effective, created less bloodshed, had a much greater chance of achieving post-conflict reconciliation and deepened people’s spiritual lives.
The workshops covered many issues and I would have liked to have gone to them all. I settled for a further encounter with John Dear, which was richly rewarding: Jesus and nonviolent direct action – in the temple overthrowing the moneylenders’ tables or healing people on the Sabbath.
The Mass on Sunday morning illustrated our divisions. I am old enough to remember when at such a gathering (as a good Episcopalian with a high view of the real presence of Christ in consecrated bread and wine) I would happily have been able to make my communion. I pray that such times come again. As it was, receiving a blessing in a reverent and worshipful service led by Fr. Tony Lappin was a joy.
The final session looked to the future and what could be done about Pax Christi in Scotland and about encouraging local churches and congregations to give a higher profile to peace and nonviolence issues. I was especially struck by contributions from Hugh Foy as to how we can work towards a culture of nonviolence in prisons, schools and families. The course from ‘Violence to Wholeness’ sounded to be one that every parish should take up. I see church change as being very much a bottom up process although it was really encouraging to think that there might just be an encyclical on nonviolence in two years time – if so we must be prepared….
My time was interrupted regularly by organisational details… Would people take their sheets off the beds before leaving? Would they remember to hand in their room keys/cards? Would all the requested diets work out (most did). Could we run a bar on a voluntary donation basis (yes, we could and did).
Sometimes a conference feels a bit like herding cats but in general most people got to the right place without too much delay. It was great to be in a refurbished St. Mary’s monastery at Kinnoull. Memories of freezing on the top floor were eradicated. The new showers are a delight. The welcome from those living and working there was warm – Kinnoull comes strongly recommended for any other group planning a conference – our evaluation was excellent.
And the grounds are superb.
Going home I thanked the Lord for a good weekend. Now to see how much fruit it all bears in the life of the church and in Scotland.
You can watch the conference keynote speakers at the Justice and Peace Scotland Youtube channel