Experimenting with Peace Village

By Dwight Davidson

At the United Church of Granville (UCG), we are blessed with a rich history. We meet every week in a stone sanctuary built in 1883 to serve both as Denison University’s chapel and as our congregation’s Meeting House. We worship in the same oak pews once occupied by well-known church historian, Dr. Kenneth Scott Latourette and early advocate of academic freedom, Dr. Kirtley Mather. Even so, in the words of Eckhart Tolle, “space is always being created for something new to emerge,” and one of the things we’re been trying out at UCG recently is “Peace Village” — a program that aims to equip younger kids (ages 6–13) to become peacemakers. 
Why young children? Because the sooner young children learn how to actively listen to others, how to return to a place of calm in their own hearts and minds in times of stress or conflict, and how to value the healthy traditions and beliefs of neighbors who are different, the better it is for their families, for our schools and for our communities. And let’s face it — compared to a lot of us adults, kids typically have less to set aside before they can learn something new! 
So last fall, led by Director of Ministry to Children & Families, Ceciel Shaw, we kicked off Peace Village in the form of a one-day camp for elementary and middle school aged kids in our community. The program was scheduled on one of our local school’s Teachers’ Work Days, anticipating that parents might be looking for fun & enriching activities to have their kid’s participate in that day.
Using our church buildings as “home base,” from 9 AM-3 PM we invited around twenty young peace-makers to participate in a rotation of four fun, interactive sessions, including segments on Conflict Resolution, Media Literacy, Mindful Movement and Connecting with Nature. Materials we used in developing our program were adapted from the day-camp curriculum of Peace Village, Inc., an international nonprofit that provides numerous curricula for training in peace-building. The result was an enjoyable day of nature hikes, tai chi, learning about conflict mediation, sharing a picnic lunch together, a collaborative art project and a team game in the church gym. Adults and high school youth from the congregation and community served as our mentors, and everyone walked away from the experiment invigorated and excited about our next steps.
Thanks to an ABHMS Palmer Grant, our plan this year is to expand the program, offering a week-long camp in early August — before the new school year begins. Increasing our enrollment cap, we will also add sessions on interfaith understanding as well — offering opportunities for our community kids to learn from a Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist neighbor about some of the world’s major religious traditions. Peace Village has been a success for us so far, and a meaningful gift to our community. Perhaps it sparks an interest in others.

Rev. Dwight Davidson is pastor of The United Church of Granville in Granville, Ohio. Previously he and his wife, Kari, served as missionaries in residence at Kanto Gakuin in Yokohama, Japan, with International Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA.

The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.