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Peace demonstration greets worshippers

   
 


Worshippers at Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg were unexpectedly confronted with a peace demonstration at their front entrance on Sunday, Mar. 27.

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May 12, 2011
Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Worshippers at Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg were unexpectedly confronted with a peace demonstration at their main entrance on Sunday, Mar. 27.

The event sprang from a university student research project designed to measure public responses to non-violent social actions on current issues. Organized by students Joseph Beck and Reuben Garang this particular event focused on raising awareness about violent civil oppression in Sudan. It unfolded as congregants entered the building for services.

The action consisted of a dramatic presentation that included a fake corpse on the sidewalk, cordoned off by pylons and caution tape to resemble a crime scene. A placard placed next to the corpse read, “Witness – Are you aware of the bloodshed in Sudan? Fight complacency through your thoughts, prayers, and actions.”

Although organizers had attempted to alert congregational leaders of the demonstration in advance, short notice and a breakdown in communication nonetheless caught worshippers by surprise.

However, Beck and Garang were pleased by the willingness of church members to engage in dialogue on the issue, and the friendly response they received at the scene. Stuart Williams, Church Council Chair, invited the pair to return the following Sunday to continue the dialogue in an adult education setting, which they willingly did.

The experience proved to be a teachable moment for both the congregation and the organizers. Beck described how, at a different church on a previous Sunday, worshippers avoided the scene and entered the church through a secondary entrance.

As an inner city church, Home Street congregants have learned to expect the unexpected. Over the years, they have grown more accustomed to receiving guests who live on the margins of society; a small group of volunteers serve up coffee, snacks, and conversation with Sunday morning visitors from the neighbourhood, some of whom are homeless or have otherwise fallen through the cracks in government social support systems.

Beck said he and Garang selected places of worship as social action venues because they felt churches would be the most receptive to the issue, and that they specifically included a Mennonite church because they felt Mennonites have a record of support for people experiencing social injustice.

Garang is a student in environmental studies at the University of Winnipeg, while Beck is studying conflict resolution at Menno Simons College.