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Canada has always been a lawabiding, church-going country, and these traits are being turned to the advantage of the peace movement, with the recent appointment of Joanne Clark as Peace Activities Co-ordinator for the Toronto Conference of the United Church. Smaller denominations, such as the Mennonites and the Quakers, have had such co-ordinators, but the United Church is the first of the “mainstream” denominations to follow their lead.
Clarke was officially appointed in March to co-ordinate peace activities for the Toronto Conference, a district which includes not only Metro, but also the rural areas as far north as Parry Sound. In the first year of her appointment, the United Church paid one-third of her expenses; the other two-thirds were borne by donations and sales of. the United Church’s dove-shaped peace pin. Her mandate is rather ambiguously defined. According to Clarke, most of her work involves “ outreach and education – finding speakers, leading seminars” and keeping in contact with other disarmament organizations, such as the Toronto Disarmament Network. Clarke sees the most important function of her role as creating a support system for struggling disarmament groups in individual congregations.
It was the need for this support which began the process culminating in Clark’s appointment. “Two years ago, some peace groups got together We had been finding a lack of support (within the congregations) and feelings of isolation. Peace activities threaten the status quo, and many people become defensive. “
After a meeting of about 23 peace groups, they created the United Church Peace Network, with a double mandate – to support those groups and individuals which were already involved in the peace movement, and to pursue outreach and educational activities for those who were not.
In outreach, says Clarke, the key word is empathy. “People (in the United Church) are all at different levels of understanding, and their needs differ. It- all comes down to empathy. Listen first, don’t antagonize, and educate. Action is the logical outcome of such education.”
Action is a theological necessity. “As Christians, we have a duty to act against this (nuclear war). Faith without action is dead faith. We see ourselves as stewards of the earth – we have to act.”
Clarke believes that creating the motivation to act is best done on the individual level.
“We must address emotions — hopes, fears, expectations. Fear of death, fears of the Russians. Some people feel hopeless (as though) nuclear war is inevitable. Peace activists are partly responsible we’ve been acting out of desperation for so long.”
The diversity of the United Church is important to Clarke. “Pluralism is our strength. Not everybody (in the Church) is “on board” the peace movement. Our purpose is not to agree – we want to show that people from all perspectives can have an equitable discussion.”
Clarke identifies three very broad categories within the United Church – those who are already involved; those who are not involved; and the clergy.
“Ministers are finding it hard to be “pastor and prophet” to maintain a good rapport with their congregation, and at the same time speak what they see as the truth about war.”
“The truth” includes the links between peace, justice and development – an area in which the United Church has traditionally been strong, and one on which Clarke hopes the United Church Peace Network will concentrate. To this end, the UCPN is planning seminars, workshops, retreats and outreach programmes, as well as participation in the Interfaith Conference on Nuclear Issues, to be held in November.
Clarke stresses the amount of work UCPN volunteers have done in making her position a reality, and stresses the need for more. “It’s always been a team effort.”