May 1945. Europe lies in ruins. Tens of millions have been killed. Many millions more have endured unimaginable suffering and are now fighting to survive. The vast majority of churches and Christians on both sides have supported the decisions and actions of their governments which have caused this horrific suffering.
The origins of Church and Peace can be traced to the questions of the post-war era. Questions such as:
- Why could the churches not prevent two world wars?
- Why have they accepted war and even tried to justify it?
- Shouldn’t the churches be offering a different option, a way of peace?
At its first assembly in Amsterdam, the World Council of Churches also wrestled with these questions. Its member churches were urged to take a critical look at their war and peace theology. The WCC asked the Historic Peace Churches to take an active part in this discussion. In response the Historic Peace Churches organised various theological consultations such as the Puidoux Conferences.
These meetings brought together European Mennonites and Quakers as well as representatives of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the historic peace churches in North America. At the heart of their discussion was the question: what does it mean to be a peace church?
The theological conferences had two aims:
- first to highlight the incompatibility between being a disciple of Jesus and going to war, and
- secondly to promote the formation of a European network of individuals and groups sharing the Christian pacifist conviction.
It was evident that theological discussion alone would not suffice; these convictions should also be put into action. For this reason the international Christian peace service agency Eirene was formed in 1957. Its purpose was to offer young Christians the possibility of doing long-term voluntary peace service.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s different groups continued the process of theological discussion and ecumenical dialogue begun with Puidoux. These groups focused on two central issues:
- the role played by Christian pacifism in the churches and
- the process by which a church could become a peace church.
But where was such a vision of church and community to be found in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s?
The Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder suggested that in Europe one was most likely to happen upon traces of peace church existence in Christian communities and peace service organisations, regardless of confessional background.
Yoder’s reflections sparked a two-fold networking initiative :
- first to make contacts with different Christian communities and peace service organisations across Europe and
- then to bring these groups together with historic peace churches and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in a peace church network.
The first visits and meetings took place in 1975 and led to the founding of Church and Peace in 1978 as an association. Wilfried Warneck, Protestant pastor and co-founder of the Laurentiuskonvent, was named Church and Peace’s first Executive Director.
Since that time Church and Peace has endeavoured to be an international and inter-confessional meeting place for persons from communities, churches and peace organisations who wish to continually renew their commitment to living as members of a peace church.
Today Church and Peace comprises approximately 100 individual and corporate members in Western, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
The urgency of the task to overcome violence is as apparent today as ever. The churches are challenged anew to respond to their calling to live as the peace church of Jesus and to put his teachings into action.
The Church and Peace network is alive and growing. It is sustained by its members’ expectation that more and more Christians will commit themselves to Jesus’ vision of the Church of Peace and journey together on a path of transformation.