EPF: The Voice of Conscience for 81 Years

By Rev. Bob Davidson, EPF National Chair

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) began as The Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship on November 11, 1939, Armistice Day.  Founders among others were William Appleton Lawrence, Bishop of Western Massachusetts, Mrs. Henry Hill Pierce of New York, and John Nevin Sayre, also of New York.  It is to Rev. Sayre that today’s EPF owes a debt of gratitude for his visionary and tireless leadership to convene the early founders of this organization.  Each three years the John Nevin Sayre Award is given to nominees who demonstrate this same passion for peacemaking and justice.

Another icon of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, for whom a legacy society is named, is the Rt. Rev. Paul Jones (1880-1941).  Bishop Jones was ordained and served a mission church in Logan, Utah. In 1914 he was made Bishop of the Missionary District of Utah. He was an outspoken pacifist, and when World War I began in 1914, he spoke against it. As the war progressed, and when the United States entered the war in 1917, many Americans were vehement in holding that pursuing the war was a moral duty, and opposition to the war was immoral. In the spring of 1918, yielding to pressure, Bishop Jones resigned as Bishop of Utah. He continued to speak out within the Church as an advocate of peace and the Christian renunciation of war.

An early statement of commitment to the purposes of EPF read, “In loyalty to the person, teachings and Lordship of Jesus Christ, my conscience commits me to His way of redemptive love; to pray, study and work for peace, and to renounce, so far as is possible, participation in war, militarism and all other forms of violence.”

The early years were occupied by building the organization, relating to the interdenominational Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and developing an annual conference (first at Bucksteep in the Berkshires, and later at Seabury House, Greenwich, Connecticut).  Efforts were begun to get resolutions passed by General Convention, the triennial legislative assembly of the Episcopal Church, and Lambeth Conference, the every-ten-years meeting of all Anglican Bishops from around the world. The Lambeth Conference had already passed in 1930 a rather famous statement which included the phrase: “War as a means of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and principle of our Savior Jesus Christ” which EPF has built upon in advocating for similar statements from the General Convention.  The publication of Cross Before Flag outlines over sixty years of statements and resolutions of the General Convention and Lambeth Conference.

This statement has been reiterated by Lambeth every ten years since l948. A Pilgrimage to Canterbury, England, at the time of the Lambeth Conference, in cooperation with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship has taken place at the last three Lambeth Conferences.  The Episcopal Peace Fellowship is considered the American branch of the Anglican Peace Fellowship (as it is now known) along with the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN).

In 1966 EPF established a full-time staff person as Executive Director, and in the same year, on the eve of the Vietnam War, changed its name to Episcopal Peace Fellowship and altered its commitment statement to accommodate peacemakers who were not necessarily pacifists. Under leadership of a National Executive Committee (NEC) and the Executive Director, EPF has continued with its program and activities to the present, working with various commissions of the General Convention and with ecumenical and other peace partners. In more recent times, efforts have been made to establish local Chapters of EPF throughout the Church and to have Action Groups on a national basis to learn and discuss such topics as Conscientious Objection, Death Penalty Abolition, Drone Warfare, Gun Violence Prevention and Young Adults.

The NEC is elected by the membership, meets twice annually, elects officers, and administers program and maintain contacts with the official Episcopal Church structure, the Anglican Church Networks, and ecumenical peace efforts.  The current national Chair of the National Executive Committee is the Rev. Bob Davidson.  Melanie Atha is the current Executive Director.

A more extensive history of EPF is to be found in “The Voice of Conscience: A Loud and Unusual Noise?” by Nathaniel W. Pierce and Paul L. Ward, published by Charles River Publishing, Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1989.  "Bishop Paul Jones: Witness for Peace" by John Howard Melish, published by Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio is another useful resource.

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