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MC Canada fills Peace & Justice office

Arlyn Friesen Epp

Winnipeg, Man.— Arlyn Friesen Epp will begin as half-time Peace & Justice Ministry director in June, succeeding Marilyn Houser Hamm who has moved on to become the director of worship and spiritual formation (half-time) and executive director of congregational partnerships (half-time).

Friesen Epp says his job is "to give a voice to our constituents," and in collaboration with partner organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams, to promote an Anabaptist perspective on issues of peace and social justice.

One particular challenge is to "articulate a peace theology for today in a context that is both Canadian and very varied regionally," said Friesen Epp, referring to the broad spectrum of issues and perspectives present in the Canadian Mennonite church.

One issue he intends to spend some time on is the farm crisis, the pre-assembly conference Making Peace with the Land held in conjunction with Mennonite Church Canada’s annual assembly in Saskatoon, July 3-7. "I’m excited to hear about that discussion," he said, calling it important because "the farm environment is changing rapidly."

"Our theology of stewardship toward the land and food production must be articulated," said Friesen Epp. Farmers need to be supported, and "the church’s role is being a voice of both reason and hope and also critique."

"We probably won’t all agree on everything," said the new director of Peace & Justice Ministry, but it is important to look at issues from many different perspectives.

Friesen Epp brings a few different approaches to issues himself. As program coordinator (with his wife Judith) for MCC’s work in Louisiana, based in New Orleans, he became keenly attuned to the racist and structural dimensions of social injustice. While these take different forms in different regions of Canada than they did in New Orleans, Friesen Epp says such social analysis is key to understanding injustice in Canada.

A self-confessed "dramatist at heart," he also brings a creative flair to his new position. "I’ve done a lot of playwriting and acting in church contexts and those pieces have all been biblical in nature and have always had a peace and justice element." Friesen Epp hopes to continue expressing peace issues through drama. "I think it’s an important medium."

Reflecting on his new position, Friesen Epp is "very excited, [but] humbled also, knowing that any peace and justice portfolio is huge. In that way I am overwhelmed, but I realize that the heart of peace and justice work rests in all of us."

"It is a shared journey, and there are many good and devoted people who continue to work for people on the margins... I just want to walk alongside those who have walked on this road already."

This means both working with other peace advocates, and also with those who are being advocated for. "It will be vitally important in any peace and justice work to listen vary carefully to member constituents who are members of colour... the voices that are suppressed in Canada are also the voices of persons within our constituency and it is precisely those voices that we need to listen to."