Rev. Jessie Smith
This weekend with the rest of EPF’s National Executive Counsel has me thinking about the heart of our work. Many of us are experiencing transition in our personal or professional lives, just as EPF is at a pivotal place in its organizational life. This kind of transition reminds me to go within, to remember our foundation, remember why we are gathered here in Chicago.
I can remember when I learned what it means to be a peacemaker. It was a defining moment in my life. I realized not only what peacemaking is about, but what it means to follow Christ. It was the night before a public witness at Bangor Nuclear Submarine base. We were at Ground Zero Nonviolent Action Center, a community for nonviolent action on land adjacent to Bangor. Year after year activists gathered together to show up and speak out so it made sense to develop this home base. On this evening I was surrounded by people who had been at this work for peace longer than I had been alive. We planned, prayed and discerned about the next day.
And as background, “the Trident submarine base at Bangor employs the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the U.S. and is the home port for 8 of the Navy’s 14 Trident nuclear powered submarines. One submarine deployed at Bangor is equal to more than 1,400 Hiroshima sized nuclear bombs. The nuclear warheads at SWFPAC and on submarines based at Bangor have the combined explosive power equivalent to more than 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.”
Over dinner we made the plan to celebrate and then deliver Eucharist to the Commander of the base. Delivering Eucharist would mean we would walk across the line that is painted on the street to mark an intentional boundary. Crossing the line, means being arrested.
I, several Buddhist monks, a Jesuit priest and a female pastor were considering arrest. But considering arrest could mean a variety of things. It could be the usual book and release, it could be the time they decided to make an example of us, pressing charges and holding us. I turned the options over and over in my head: would I be more effective if I was sure I could return that day to my bed at the Catholic Worker, to my job as a case manager? Or would I have greater impact on the world, on my community, my church, my friends and family if I spent this energy educating others about the atrocities housed at the base instead of participating in this action. Where was the best use of my time? My energy?
It was during this process of figuring out my role, that I heard the eleven words that changed my life, words that unsettled me and lead me to a decision.
A man whose years of activism were visible in the worried wrinkles he wore on his face, said to me that “we, followers of Christ are called to be faithful not effective”.
Those words have changed my life. They changed how I understood my role as a Christian. They changed how I understood my role as a peacemaker. This work cannot be about results. Was Jesus (hanging on a cross) effective? Was Gandhi (stubborn and frail) effective? Their point was not to be effective; they lived lives that were faithful.
That night I realized what faith looks like: it looks like persistence in the face of evil despite the cost. I realized that peacemaking is not always about results, but it is about being faithful to our call as Christians. Being a peacemaker is embracing the role of ‘fool for Christ’ carrying Eucharist onto a nuclear submarine base, or clinging to an altar at General Convention demanding the church give the sanctuary and support for the peace it preaches.
As I have let these words shape my life I have come to realize that to be effective means you must work within the confines of this world, to be effective often means you must accept a lot of givens. To be effective in this world you must learn how to tolerate in the intolerable, how to navigate systems you don’t believe in, how to speak half-truths so that others won’t leave the table.
William Sloane Coffin wrote on this truth. He states this truth should continue to rattle us during these difficult times in our country; “The quickest way to lose your humanity is to begin to tolerate the intolerable.” If we, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship set out to be effective above faithful we are on the path of losing our humanity, losing our purpose and foundation.
Daniel Berrigan- a man who knew well this vocation of faithful peacemaker, wrote in his intro to Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “ I am grateful beyond words for the grace of this woman’s life, for her sensible unflinching rightness of mind, her long and lonely truth, her journey to the heart of things. I think of her as one who simply helped us in a time of self-inflicted blindness, to see… She urged our consciences off the beaten track. … She did this, first of all, by living as though the truth were true.”
I hear EPF’s call to faithfulness in these words; the call to be unflinching, to break through the church’s self-inflicted blindness so that we all may see. The Episcopal Peace fellowship has a unique vocation to be the peacemakers who live as though the truth were true.
EPF’s deepest and most authentic truth is that there is room for peace to emerge and grow from the Episcopal Church, there is room for justice to prevail in our relationships and we are willing to put our lives, our voices and bodies, our time and energy on the line working for that peace and justice.
We can’t give too much weight to reality or else we will be paralyzed. We cannot accept even hints of the unacceptable (even if that keeps a seat at the table) because that is the path of losing ourselves and betraying our truth.
We are all sitting here because 80 years ago someone believed that there was enough potential for the peace of Christ to grow in the Episcopal Church. We are here because some people were stubborn and persistent about their vision for how we, God’s church, could be a light to the world. We are here today because 80 years ago some people sat down at tables like these and decided to keep dreaming when others laughed and said, “that is neither wise nor effective.” And then, they were faithful anyway.
We are here because we share a vocation to urge our collective episcopal consciences off the beaten track. We are all here because we believe that Jesus Christ came to bring us life and peace. That is our truth. A 12-step slogan comes to mind: Keep the main thing, the main thing. That is what we must, in these troubled times, do- keep the main thing the main thing. We must live as though the truth were true.
We may not always be effective, but my prayer for us as an organization is that we are always faithful to our truth. We may not have the money, the programs, the time and the social bandwidth in the Church to do an effective job of working for peace, but we must remain at least faithful. We must remember our unique calling in this church: to speak truth to power. To Live through study, action and pray as though our truth were true: that Christ came to bring peace. That TEC is as good as any a place to cultivate that peace. That we have what it takes, God has given us what we need not to be effective but to be faithful.
 Ground Zero Center for Nonviolence