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Two Florida clergywomen say church must have voice in justice issues

Two Florida clergywomen say church must have voice in justice issues

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Two Florida clergywomen say church must have voice in justice issues

March 14, 2008    News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0814}

NOTE: Headshots of the Revs. Tracy Hunter and Nancy Dixon Walton are available at

An e-Review Feature
By Sarah Alsgaard**

At a recent peace conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C, the Rev. Peter Storey suggested that every congregation take a two-year sabbatical.

During that time, congregations should discuss four issues: the flag and altar, wealth and poverty, violence and nonviolence, and inclusion and exclusion. 

Rev. Tracy Hunter

The Rev. E. Tracy Hunter agrees churches need greater focus and on the things that really matter.

“I think the American culture and the American churches … we like to be busy, and full-calendars are celebrated, and if you don’t have four or five different programs of ministry then the questions get loud and there’s not a whole lot of time for reflection or processing or having those conversations,” said Hunter, who serves as pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg. “It seems to me we spend a lot more time reacting instead of spending the time in God’s word.

Hunter was among 400 participants who attended the 2008 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference Feb. 6 with the Rev. Nancy Dixon Walton, pastor at Gray Memorial United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.

“Our churches have a great tradition of being involved in mercy ministries, but we lack the experience of involvement in peace and justice ministries,” Walton said. “As one colleague here in Tallahassee says, ‘If mercy is the fruit, then peace and justice is the root.’ ”

The two-day conference included speakers, worship services, panel discussions and workshops, one titled “Preaching Difficult Text” and another “Walking the Talk: The Churches in South Africa’s Peace Accord.” 

Rev. Nancy Dixon Walton
“I truly enjoyed the workshops best because it allowed for a more intimate time, and dialogue with the speakers and other presenters,” Walton said. “Their vast experience in peace and justice work helped me to imagine just how ‘relevant’ the church’s voice should be, especially with regards to these kinds of issues.”

Both pastors walked away from the conference with ideas of how to help congregations become more involved in peace and justice ministries.

“Many of us are confused, or mixed up, about being a citizen of America, which often comes first before being a citizen of heaven or sometimes, even worse, will be confused with being a citizen of heaven,” Hunter said. “And sometimes being a faithful follower of Christ means we speak up or speak out even in regard to our country’s policies or our country’s programs.”

Walton said greater involvement in justice ministries begins with prayer, which in turn begins with a focus on church prayer lists — and who is on them.

“ … This means our prayer list includes not only those who are ill, but lifts up struggling schools in our community, race relations, gender equality, factors of unemployment and economic recession, environmental issues etc. … ,” Walton said.

Art joins worship and song as part of the 2008 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference in North Carolina. The Jan. 31-Feb. 2 event included worship, workshops and conversations about The United Methodist Church's role in a violent world. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert. Photo #08-0775.

She suggested churches feeling overwhelmed by the thought of “entering this kind of relationship with their ‘world parish’ ” could consider meeting with their church cluster and inviting “those with knowledge or experience in a particular justice issue to address them collectively and share stories that put a face on the justice issue.”

Hunter decided to attend the conference after having spent last summer in South Africa and having grown up around army bases.

“ … Some of the grittiest conflicts or reasons people have given for leaving the church or being angered with the church has been when I have spoken either against war or against violence or for peace,” she said. “So when I saw the peace conference schedule … and when I found out that Peter Story was there, it was a draw for me.”

Storey spoke out against apartheid in South Africa while he was bishop there and is a strong advocate for peace, Hunter said.

“I wanted to hear an intergenerational mix of voices from a prophetic vision within the greater church on peace and justice issues,” Walton said. “I, like many in the church, have had much more experience in mercy ministry, and I wanted to learn more about justice ministry and our call to that ministry as pastors and teachers.”

A grassroots campaign of peace advocates led by 95-year-old Rev. Wright Spears created the conference. The group plans to have 10 more years of such conferences. Next year’s event is already underway.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.