Peace Sunday, Pandemic and Prayer

|

What is Peace Sunday and why does it matter?

In a few weeks’ time, on 20 September, we’ll be marking Peace Sunday.

Peace Sunday is the closest Sunday to the UN International Day of Peace, and each year the World Council of Churches calls on local congregations to make it a day of prayer for peace.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously calls us to be peacemakers.  At CHIPS we believe it is to be a characteristic of every Christian – none of us is excepted. This Peace Sunday, in the light of the pandemic and the exposure of racial injustice, that call feels more urgent than ever.

Peace is difficult to measure, but the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that the level of global peacefulness has deteriorated in nine of the last 12 years. It also paints a picture of a world in which many conflicts of the past decade had begun to subside, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension as a result of Coronavirus.[1]

So what are some of the particular themes we’ll be thinking and praying about this Peace Sunday particularly in relation to our work in London?

Lockdown doesn’t make violence go away

A couple of weeks ago, two men were stabbed outside our office in Brixton. We were working with young people outdoors on the estate when it happened. Fortunately, our team members were able to lead those young people to safety and help one of the injured men to get assistance. Tragically, the other 20-year old man died later in hospital.

This was the second stabbing in the area in just a few weeks and it reminds us that the root causes of conflict haven’t magically disappeared just because people have been in lockdown. There’s now a very real risk that violence will escalate again as restrictions lift. So this Peace Sunday we’ll be praying for peace on our streets, for calm in the hearts of those caught up in disputes, and for new positive role models and changemakers to be raised up across our towns and cities.

New challenges from the pandemic

The pandemic has brought its own challenges. The UN describes a recent worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a “shadow pandemic” alongside COVID-19. Our own experience in Brixton backs this up: several people we’re supporting through our Coronavirus response work are caught up in domestic abuse situations.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence we’ve heard on the streets suggests that county lines drug gangs have been capitalising on school closures to prey on young people and recruit them into criminal activity. As usual, it is the vulnerable who are most at risk.

These are two examples of how, over just a few months, traditional support structures have become strained in ways we may not have seen before. These new patterns may prove hard to break, so this Peace Sunday we’ll be praying that victims can find a way out.

Poverty and inequality

In Brixton, many households have felt a sharp financial shock from the pandemic and we continue to see ‘new’ families emerging from the shadows and asking for help for the first time. Some have no recourse to public funds; others have fallen through the cracks of an overburdened health and social support system. Whatever the reasons for their current situation, the effects of this crisis will not be short-lived for many.

In addition, we see every day how institutional racism affects young lives: people who are stopped and searched because of their skin colour; others with family members who have died in custody with no conclusion to the investigation.

We know from our experience that poverty and inequality are two of the main root causes of conflict and the events of the past few months have highlighted the brutal extent of both. This Peace Sunday, we’ll be praying that communities across the country will have the vision and the will to make real change happen.

New opportunities for peacemakers

Even amid all this, we see much to be encouraged about as peacemakers.

We believe that diverse and dynamic relationships at all levels across communities are key to a peaceable society. We’ve seen people come together in new and amazing ways in the past five months and had the privilege of working with many people volunteering for the first time and engaging locally in ways they didn’t before. So we’re praying that one of the outcomes of this crisis will be that communities affected by violence can harness this energy and build the constructive and lasting partnerships that are needed to support peacemaking.

Another positive is that we’ve been having more open discussions with young people on subjects which cut to the heart of some of the causes of conflict. These include fear and panic, mental health and – following the murder of George Floyd – institutional racism in the UK. They are themes which some do not ordinarily have the opportunity or courage to have conversations about. Our prayer is that they will permanently become part of the fabric of personal and public discussion.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the pandemic will bring significant changes to how societies operate. Can we take this opportunity to radically transform how we think about and ‘do’ community, and to tackle the underlying issues that lead to conflict, division and violence?  Peace Sunday gives us an opportunity to reflect on these questions.

So we invite you to join us in praying for peace on 20 September. This year has thrown up new challenges to peace, but it also presents new opportunities for those willing to take up Jesus’ call in the Sermon on the Mount. The question is, will we be courageous enough to respond?

Three ways to get involved this Peace Sunday

  • Join the CHIPS Peace Sunday 2020 Online Service

This year, as many churches are continuing to meet virtually, we’re broadcasting an online service at 6.30pm on Sunday 20 September, on the theme of ‘Peace, Pandemic and Racial Injustice.’ You can join us, or watch the service afterwards at a convenient time, by registering here.

  • Make use of Peace Sunday resources in your meetings or personal quiet time

Our colleagues at the Fellowship of Reconciliation have prepared some biblical reflections and worship material which you can register for here. The World Mennonite Council also provides a pack of varied resources which you can download here.

  • Fundraise for peace in our Peace Sunday Virtual Challenge

If you’d like to do something more active, CHIPS has organised a virtual challenge that you can take part in anytime between Saturday 12 and Sunday 27 September. Designed to be fun and accessible to all, you can choose to walk, run or do something less physical to support our peacemaking work around the world. Read more and register here.

[1] http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/06/GPI_2020_web.pdf