“We are Creation’s possible people” is a line from a prayerful poem shared in one of the key note speeches of the conference “Reconciliation in Turbulent Times” in Birmingham on 2 July 2022. The day event was the latest to be organised by two ecumenical organisations, Church and Peace with the Fellowship of Reconciliation of England and Scotland. It recognised we live in turbulent times and encouraged participants to explore actions and focus on hope through Christ. This was the first hybrid conference with many people attending in-person. The gathering had happened online only for the last two years and there was a sense of energy in the room.
The day started with a keynote by Rev Sam McBratney, a Methodist minister and experienced reconciler titled “The Long Road to Reconciliation”. He shared from his personal experience of exclusion and harm done when Church and society deal with conflicts in a pastoral rather than a justice-driven approach. He highlighted that conflicts arise if there are power imbalances at play before going on to explore ‘resurrection’ as a a key word for the churches‘ furthering of reconciliation. Focussing on this opens the horizon for new life and transformation being possible.
While some participants afterwards continued discussing these reflections with Sam, others joined a very different workshop. Ana Raffai shared her experience of reconciliation and building peace in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. As a founder of the organisation “Regional Address for Nonviolent Actions” in Croatia and “Believers for Peace” in the region, Ana shared the ongoing commitment and need for reconciliation after the wars, ethnic and religious divides and displacement of the late 90s still impact on the societies. Almost 30 years after the conflict was hot, spaces to meet and mutual respect were still needing to be created and enable reconciliation to happen. “Giving hope to others is peace work,” Ana said, encouraging participants to explore their own sources of hope and sharing those perspectives with others. A powerful example of the long road it takes to truly build peace and foster reconciliation.
The afternoon started with Rev Dr Barbara Glasson presenting passages from her recent book “Peace is a Doing Word”. With prayerful poetry or poetic prayers, her talk highlighted that peace is not wishful thinking but rather a vocation that’s engraved in the hearts and minds of Christ’s followers who allow themselves to be disquieted by this vocation. To love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us in community, according to Barbara. As is taking peace as the measure and rule and the one thing that will make a difference and change the world.
Additional to continuing the conversation with Barbara, two more workshops were offered.
In her workshop “Choosing Peace in Times of Fear and Division” Carolyn Merry encouraged the participants to view times of turmoil and chaos – which are terms that continue to describe current situation in the UK and globally – as the transformative period of a caterpillar in a cocoon. It is the most important time of the development into a butterfly that just takes time. Crucial to continue to choose to be driven by peace rather than fear, is self-care. In order to not burn out, regular pauses, rooting ourselves in our spiritual foundation, shifting from reacting from fear to acting out of love, as well as trusting in God and the power of community is important.
Angie Allport shared her experience of working in a diverse coalition to highlight local concerns for peace in her workshop “Building Peace when the Arms Fair Comes to Town”. The Three Counties Showground in Malvern is usually associated with flower and livestock shows, however it has become more recently associated with an annual Arms Fair (Three Counties Defence and Security Expo, 3CDSE) that has started to hire the venue. As with other towns and cities around the UK, when local people hear about the fair and the types of weapons discussed they are outraged and mobilise a range of groups to take action. Often this has lead to the invitation to hold the fair being withdrawn. On this occasion the showground still holds the fair and so participants were invited to sign campaign postcards and raise their own concerns about the booking.
Following a brief wrap up plenary conversation, during which people reflected on ideas and challenges heard during the day, the meeting closed in worship. Lizzy Norman-Sargent from the Student Christian Movement spoke about some of what challenges her to stay active for peace before sharing a prayer she had written for the UN International Day of Peace.
Watch the keynote speeches online at: Fellowship of Reconciliation – YouTube