As we move into Holy Week, many of our thoughts turn toward the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular. We have invited the Rev. Nicholas Porter, founder of Jerusalem Peacebuilders and priest canonically resident in ECCT, to share about his own faith journey and how it has intertwined with the the Holy Land and its stories, both ancient and modern.
This year Jerusalem Peacebuilders (www.jerusalempeacebuilders.org) entered its second decade of interfaith peace and reconciliation ministry in the Holy Lands. Founded in 2011, this ECCT ministry launched its first program with 11 teens. Today, we operate year-round interfaith peace and leadership programs that unite and empower a new generation of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans who are committed to building secure, shared and peaceful societies.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, we worked directly with 2,383 youth and adults in 100 schools, synagogues, churches and mosques.
The story began while sitting on the counter in my mother’s kitchen and listening to Walter Cronkite narrate grainy black and white clips of the Yom Kippur War on CBS News. It was October 1973, and the images of Arab tanks, Israeli fighter-planes, and violent death changed my life. I was only nine-years old, living on a cattle farm in Missouri, but it was clear to me that that war was not the answer. That day the story of Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) was born.
Pursuit of the vision would take me far from that farmhouse kitchen. Ministry and study in London, Paris, Geneva, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Connecticut would teach me much about war and peace and how to work effectively in multinational settings.
Stories, visions, and narratives possess tremendous power to nurture, destroy, or redeem human life. The truth is that stories shape human life, not the opposite. The multilayered Israeli-Palestinian conflict has spawned two rival narratives: an Israeli one focusing on historic persecution, aggression, and the need for security, and a Palestinian one focusing on dispossession, occupation, and national determination. These narratives shape the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians, memorializing historic traumas and triggering violence and division.
While history cannot be changed, we can change what we do with it. Rather than perpetuate these antithetical narratives, JPB catalyzes their transformation into a united one for the 21st Century that recognizes the inclusion of historic needs and aspirations of each people as essential to the future well-being and fulfilment of both.
JPB’s interfaith peace and leadership educational programs focus on promising youth and adults who will have outsize influence on each other and on wider society around them. Through a carefully choregraphed process of breaking down isolation, polarization, prejudice, and stereotypes between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, peace emerges as participants become active leaders whose lives exemplify a new narrative of achievement, trust, and healthy intercommunal relations.
Our tiny cadre of staff and volunteers facilitate all this and more through the grace of God and a loyal network of international partnerships. On a good day, we can be likened to yeast leavening dough for a future much greater than ourselves.
We understand our participants, alumni and supporters in much the same way. With our limited resources and the unlimited might of entrenched interests, JPB cannot claim to be a “movement” with a hierarchy or orchestrated, large scale initiatives for social change. Instead, we are a “non-movement” of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze working individually but simultaneously for peace, prosperity, and dignity in Jerusalem, Israel, and Palestine.
Is this not exactly how the Spirit of God silently shapes history and the human heart? We believe that God is a verb and this is our prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. We hope that you will join us in honoring God and transforming lives.
Nicholas is a priest, educator, and the founder of Jerusalem Peacebuilders. When not in Jerusalem, he his wife Dorothy live on Acer Farm in southern Vermont.