Peace Village Children Empowered to Change the World

September 1, 2009

Focusby Ken McCormack

When Charles Busch, a Congregational minister, arrived in Lincoln City, Oregon, from Tombstone, Arizona, he was accustomed to reenactments of the glorious shootout at the famous O.K. Corral. Years later, however, the big community event in Lincoln City became Peace Village, whose 13th anniversary was celebrated last summer.

This week-long, interfaith summer day camp sometimes has as many as a hundred adults working for the benefit of 60-80 racially and culturally diverse children, ages 6 through 13. It is the realization of one pastor’s vision of compassion and peace. Moreover, it has now become a national organization with its main office in Eugene.

Prompted by Local School Violence

.The genesis of Peace Village was a local event — a violent altercation at Taft High School in 1994 that made front-page news. Violence was, of course, plaguing schools all over the land. Busch had gone to talk to the principal. On the way back he wondered what Christians could do to meet this emergency. “No matter how violent the world or environment at home or school,” he believed, there is this source of peace deep within us to meet that threat and fear, and we need to teach our children how to access the peace within, and how, once empowered in that way, to create — trusting smallness — to create villages among friends, family, community, because it does start with us.”

Busch had not always been so committed. When he was 17, he ran off and joined the Marines. He liked the military life so much he only went to college so he could become an officer. But during college his values changed, and he chose not to go into active duty. He considers himself fortunate not to have been called up for Vietnam.

He came to the ministry late, in middle age. He had been a partner in an engineering firm in New York City and was launching himself as a novelist. At age 43, however, he went to seminary and Harvard to study theology. He wanted a rural ministry. His first job was in Tombstone where “they reenact that old myth that we wear the white hats and if we get rid of everybody with a black hat the world will be safe. My preaching just down the street from the O.K. Corral was inspiring pacifism.” But Busch himself had not always been a pacifist.

Totally Inclusive

The Village insists on being diverse and inclusive. It passes on the lessons of the Prince of Peace, but also of Islam, Native American Shamanism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, meditation, yoga, conflict resolution, nutrition, ecology, art, beach picnics, kayaking, nature hikes and media analysis. It culminates with an all-night rite of passage for older kids and then a flower ceremony and graduation the next day.

Peace Village attempts to acts out the Beloved Community. It holds up Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi as prototypes, but it also, focuses more on the spiritual than political and makes every attempt to build bridges to the “opposition” in a way that benefits everyone.

Locally Active, National in Vision, for Kids and Adults

This year there were nine Peace Villages in five states, and there are ambitious plans for many more. The Village staff, under the direction of Darren Reiley, also runs a charter school in Eugene — now in its third year. In addition, the Village conducts PeaceOut, a series of eight-week programs for teens in the public schools, and Peace Clubs for younger kids.peacevillage1

After school Peace Clubs, in Eugene, Portland and Forest Grove, draw on the talents of college interns who are willing to teach peacemaking skills. Most recently, an adult education program, Fields of Peace, has been added —
developed by Charles, after retiring from the Congregational Church, and his wife Cathey.

The Strategy to Avoid Topical Controversy

Despite the Village’s apparent political overtones, there are no calls to demonstrations, no direct action and no civil disobedience — though those running the village, including Busch, participate in and support such actions themselves. The intentional strategy of Peace Village, however, has been to avoid topical controversy and “do the deeper lessons.”

The avoidance is “in order to redefine peace as an apolitical agenda, as a humanist cause instead of a political one,” according to Darren Reiley, teacher and Village Director. One of the biggest threats the peace movement faces, he thinks, is the prevailing concept that peace is only a liberal commodity. A bipartisan approach allows half of the population to dismiss the concept without even addressing it. “We need to address the issue in a more sophisticated and really diverse way. Unless the movement embraces people of diverse backgrounds, including conservatives, and moves to the universality of peace, we are not going to get where we need to go.”

At the heart of the program is the lesson of personal power, that “we are powerful agents of change in our world.” Children are taught repeatedly they have the power to change their reality — in a positive or negative way. With that understanding comes a huge sense of responsibility. Meanwhile children are surrounded by the example of deeply committed pacifist adults walking their talk.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Peace Village, inc., P. O. Box 2635, Eugene, OR 97402. See also peacevillageinc.org. Φ

Ken McCormack, a retired journalist, is a member of OPW’s Board of Directors and has recently volunteered to serve as The PeaceWorker’s Associate Editor. He is also on the board of Peace Village.

Photo of Charles Busch courtesy of Ken McCormack. Peace Village mandala courtesy of Paul Smith. The mandala was made entirely of recycled bottle caps donated by Bring Recycling in Eugene.

One Response to “ Peace Village Children Empowered to Change the World ”

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