Interfaith gathering has United Methodist flair

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Rabbis sang in Hebrew, a Muslim prayed in Arabic and United Methodists were involved at every turn during an international gathering of people from across the faith spectrum for a forum on peace.

The sixth annual Peace Conference was held March 27- March 30 at the United Methodist Lake Junaluska Assembly. An international lineup of speakers and workshop leaders addressed the theme: Faith, Health and Peace.

The event included speakers who were not only theologically trained but experienced in medicine and public health. Dr. Christoph Benn, with the Global Fund and from Geneva, spoke about the progress that has been made over the last couple of decades in terms of child mortality and armed conflict. 

The Rev. Gary Gunderson and Dr. Jim Cochrane spoke about the “Causes of Life” and how some very simple attitudes and behaviors have the capability of helping persons survive in the most difficult of circumstances.  

Joshua DuBois, formerly with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was the keynote speaker.  Author of “The President’s Devotional; The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama,” spoke and answered questions about faith communities in partnerships that are making a difference in the world.

One of the highlights of the weekend was Dr. Henry Perry. A United Methodist layperson who grew up in Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C., and the founder of Andean Rural Health (now Curamericas Global), spoke on Saturday morning and led workshops on Friday and Saturday.  Perry is now at Johns Hopkins University teaching and doing research in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

He told his personal story of growing up at Christ United Methodist Church where his mother was the organist, and hearing a call to be a medical missionary on Maundy Thursday at age 11.  He shared how he interpreted the events of Holy Week at that age: “If Jesus could give his life for me, I can give my life for others.”

He has spent much of his career working to provide better health conditions for women and children across the globe, and is recognized as a leader in public health.

The Rev. Garland Young, a retired United Methodist clergy member of the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, was the chair of the 2014 Peace Conference Committee. Throughout much of the event, retired bishops of the church were at the podium lending greetings, introductions or moderating discussions — including Bishops Charlene Kammerer, Ken Carder and Lawrence McCleskey.

The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, greeted the gathering on Friday night. She noted the board has been a long-time supporter of the event and has regularly had a representative from the agency on the Peace Conference Committee.

The Rev. Wannamaker Harden, a retired clergy member of the Western North Carolina Conference, explained that the interfaith element has been a part of every conference since the second annual event in 2009.

“Archbishop Chacour of Palestine, a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim speaker were brought together for the conference. The richness of those presentations and conversations led to the conference being interfaith from that time forward,” Harden said.

The Rev. Wright Spears, then in his 90s and a retired United Methodist pastor and college president, invited a number of retired Western North Carolina clergy to consider developing a peace conference eight years ago. At 101, Spears attended this year’s conference.

The next Peace Conference is scheduled for March 19-22, 2015, at Lake Junaluska with theme: Longing for Peace-Exploring the Heart of God.

*Rich is the web and communications manager for the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference.

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