Pursuing Peace in Godzone – Sharon Ross Ensor

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Sharon is the Director of the Presbyterian Church Schools’ Resource Office

Some years ago in the congregation where I was minister, we had a ‘home grown’ art exhibition which focused on the theme of peace.

People were invited to create something which conveyed what peace meant for them. The church became an art gallery of sorts for a few days and people appreciated being able to take their time with the poetry, writing, photos, art and handcraft on display, reflecting our faith community’s take on peace.

I remember at the time feeling that there was an abundance of images of still pools, pastoral settings, sunsets, comforting quotes and poetry about stillness, comfort and tranquillity…I’m sure you get the picture. It was lovely, but it ran the risk, for me anyway, of being a bit sentimental and Hallmark-card-like.

For me, what lifted the exhibition into a fuller, more robust understanding of peace in the Christian tradition was the contribution of lyrics of Shirley Murray hymns and, if memory serves me correctly, James K Baxter poetry. Those things spoke of Jesus’ path of peace as something risky, costly and ultimately, transformative e.g.:

Peace was your plea, and peace your loving theme,
Let peace be our passport, peace a living dream.
Great is the cost of walking on this road,
To follow and suffer with the Son of God
From Shirley Murray’s version of Lift High The Cross

Recently, it’s been a privilege in my role with the Presbyterian Schools’ Resource Office, to have been able to collaborate with Drs Geoffrey Troughton and Philip Fountain of the Religious Studies Department of Victoria University over their new publication Pursuing Peace in Godzone: Christianity and the Peace Tradition in New Zealand (VUP, 2018).

In this book Geoff and Philip, as editors, have compiled fourteen stories from NZ Christians, post-WW2, who have in various ways ‘pursued peace’.

In addition to reflecting the work of peace and reconciliation within the church itself, the stories cover a good amount of our social history e.g. Christian pacifism in World War Two; the peace squadron on Auckland harbour in the 1970’s; the peace movement of the 1980’s focusing, among other things, on nuclear disarmament; the Ploughshares ‘Waihopai three’ activism and more.

There is no sentimentality in these stories of peace! Many of them are gritty, risky and costly as people grapple with what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus with his compelling call to be peacemakers. Some of the stories have humour in them, some of them are very moving, particularly Jamie Allen’s story of the Taranaki cathedral, entwined as it is with the story of Parihaka, Coventry Cathedral’s work of reconciliation, and his own family tragedy. All of them are inspiring in their own way and spark off the question for me of ‘how now should I live?’.

The collaboration with Geoff and Philip was around seeing if we could ‘broaden the audience’ and provide resources for our Chaplains and  Christian/Religious Education teachers to engage the students in our Presbyterian schools with the stories in the book. We are hopeful that the book might help in the work of enabling students to see past the much-used cliché of ‘religion is responsible for many, if not most, of the wars and violence in the world’ and to recognise that the story of Christian faith as it is worked out in Aotearoa has far more depth and breadth than that. We hope too that the book will faithfully reflect the stories of that constant stream of Christians who refuse to uphold the status quo or Pax Romana, who at times actively resist it and who work for a different way of being in the world, refusing to engage in violence as a solution, prepared nonetheless to stand up in costly ways in order to have their voice heard.

Happily, my colleague in the Anglican Schools’ Office, Rev Dr Anne van Gend, was also keen to be supportive of the book project and to promote it in her network. The Resource Office funded the costs associated with the University’s film unit making short movies of seven of the authors talking in more depth about their story. Our hope is that these movies will be of use in the chapel and classroom (and maybe in church study groups or even in sermons!) for exploring the stories in more depth. Currently we have the short versions of these stories available on pursuingpeace.nz and some longer versions will follow.

We have created the pursuingpeace.nz website to hold the links to the movies along with suggestions and links for further reading for those who want to dig deeper into the seven stories featured there. We are also developing curriculum for our schools to sit alongside the resources on the web-site.

I was able to send a copy of the book to each of our schools to entice them into exploring it as a resource. I’d love to send each of you a copy as well, but my resource budget doesn’t stretch that far unfortunately. The best I can do is encourage you to visit pursuingpeace.nz and buy the book from Victoria University Press via the tab there. You can get a 10% discount on the book if you buy it through the web-site!

‘Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.’ Psalm 34:14