EPF Reception, Ithaca, NY, Sept. 24, 2022
If you could plan a big party with the most interesting and beloved people, who would you invite? My answer is : You. This is THE PERFECT PARTY. Some of you flew in from around the country and some of you were able to walk across town. Whatever the distance, thank you for joining with me in this celebration of the work for peace with justice to which the Episcopal Peace Fellowship is dedicated.
Episcopal Peace Fellowship – EPF. I’d like to share some of things that EPF has taught me about that word Fellowship over the years. It’s an old-fashioned word with deep roots in Old English, designating the commitments and risk of a business partnership… putting mutual well-being on the line together.
We are gathered today in a Fellowship Hall, an old-fashioned place where community was built up long before the Net and Net-works bound us together > common meals, music, lectures, pageants nurturing each new generation into fellowship.
Today this Fellowship Hall hosts Loaves & Fishes 5 days a week, welcoming anyone in town, in whatever state of body and mind, to a delicious free meal and a safe space for fellowship and inclusion and community.
20 years ago, when I was invited to join the National Exec. Council of EPF, I was wandering in an emotional and spiritual wilderness after the death of my husband, Jess. The invitation from EPF to fill his seat on that Council was for me the ultimate offer of hospitality and kindness and fellowship. I know what it’s like to walk through the doors into a Fellowship, to be offered a feast of loaves & fishes. I am forever grateful.
On another level, I have learned that a Fellowship is grounded in and builds up common purpose. The purpose is often creative, as when students are granted fellowships to be mentored into a particular community of learners and makers. Or when candidates for Holy Baptism undertake the renunciations and the covenant promises that shape a life of Fellowship in Christ.
In times of crisis, Fellowships arise with common purpose to confront the dangers. The crisis of world war was the crucible in 1915 for The Rev. John Nevin Sayre to become a co-founder of the U.S. branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the first international multi-denominational pacifist movement. Please note that the danger being confronted by the Rev. Sayre was not ‘the armed enemy’ but the whole phenomenon of redemptive violence itself, with the increasingly catastrophic death and destruction of modern warfare, that cycle of war – armistice – war – armistice – war – armistice, on an ever grander scale.
As the pressure for war began building again in Europe, the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship was formed in 1939 under Sayre’s leadership, grounded in a Gandhian focus on nonviolent resistance as power for change. The very first EPF action was circulating a pledge among Episcopalians against fighting, even a defensive war; i.e. Conscientious Objection. Registering and ministering to Episcopal Conscientious Objectors was the core of EPF’s earliest purpose and continues to this day.
The Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship voted for a name change in 1965, spurred by a growing realization that strict pacifists and non-pacifists are called to dream and work and pray for a peace that seems impossible in our Fallen World. The new name, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, does not signify a lessening of the crisis presented by war and advanced weaponry; it is rather a broadening of the call for fellowship in the common purpose of promoting peace with justice in the face of terrifying possibilities.
Today the Doomsday Clock, measuring the probability of full-scale nuclear war, is set at 100 seconds to midnight. I am especially proud of our Ithaca Area EPF Chapter for advancing endorsement of the “Back from the Brink Campaign” all the way from our local Episcopal parishes, to our Diocese of Central New York, and finally to the 2022 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which endorsed five common sense nuclear weapons policies, moving us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. This is now the official policy of The Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship has prayed, studied and acted for peace with justice on many fronts during the years I have been involved. A glance through the editions of The Witness – which was produced and printed right here in Ithaca before moving on-line – illustrates the range and depth of a common purpose. Here’s just a taste:
*Creating a Culture of Peace: Interactive Nonviolence Training Workshops for parishes & dioceses (2004 and onward)
*Christian Peace Witness for Iraq : street vigil in Washington D.C., March 7, 2008
*Futures Not Funerals : Chicago Peace & Justice EPF Chapter sponsored keynote address on gun violence at 2009 Diocesan Convention : launched EPF’s on-going work for sane gun laws
*New York Urban Pilgrimage for Young Adults, March 2010 : first in a series of immersion experiences in psycho-social-physical challenges faced by low-income city dwellers : organized by EPF Young Adult Brain Trust
*EPF’s Statement in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as a means of Nonviolent Resistance in the quest for a just peace in Palestine/Israel  *Organization of EPF-Palestine Israel Network by The Rev. Cotton Fite later that year
To sum up, our Fellowship is characterized by an inclusive community with a common purpose. We are a Fellowship and a Peace Fellowship. In particular, though, we are the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. We do not, however, speak for our church; rather, we speak to our church. The goal is to make our EPF purpose the common purpose of the Episcopal Church: pray, study and act for peace with justice, as the Gospel imperative. And that makes EPF seem troublesome and irritating and sometimes even “dangerous” in the eyes of some church leaders and members.
That’s been true since the beginning of our Fellowship, as seen in the fate of Bishop Paul Jones, a co-founder of EPF with John Nevin Sayre. In April 1918, a commission of the House of Bishops forced Paul Jones to resign his post as Bishop of Utah because of his outspoken opposition to World War I. But he continued to make “good trouble,” pushing the church, not just to resist war but also to take up the cause of war refugees. In the 1930’s Paul Jones worked tirelessly to assist Jewish and other refugees
fleeing the Nazi regime.
I believe it was the enduring relationships of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and, later, EPF, that sustained Paul Jones in his remarkable witness for nonviolence. I believe that because of my experience in EPF and EPF PIN. The deep friendships and enduring relationships continually renew my spirit and help me get over myself and get on with the call to peacemaking.
What is Fellowship? The Three C’s > Community and Common Purpose and Courage that is founded in deep friendship. Thanks be to God for the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.