This weekend, a number of events taking place in and near New York City celebrate the centennial of an organization some call “the conscience of the peace movement.”
In 1914, an ecumenical conference was held in Switzerland by Christians seeking to prevent the outbreak of war in Europe. Before the conference ended, however, World War I had started and those present had to return to their respective countries. At a railroad station in Germany, two of the participants, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war. Out of this pledge Christians gathered in Cambridge, England, in December 1914 to found the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The U.S. FOR was founded one year later, in November 1915, at a conference in Garden City, Long Island, N.Y.
FOR has since become an interfaith and international movement with branches and affiliated groups in over 50 countries and on every continent.
Some highlights in FOR history
1916-1917: FOR helps organize the National Civil Liberties Bureau, now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It supports World War I conscientious objectors (CO) and contributes to legal recognition of COrights.
1920s: Helps organize the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference on Community and Justice), and sends a peace delegation to meet Augusto CésarSandino in Nicaragua.
1930s: Works to strengthen the labor movement and secure better working conditions. Sponsors Ambassadors of Reconciliation to visit world leaders.
1940s: Supports those who nonviolently resist during World War II. Leads the struggle against internment of Japanese Americans. European FOR members rescue Jews and political refugees fleeing Nazism. Post-war, sponsors an interracial team on the first “freedom ride” to test court decision outlawing discrimination in interstate travel. Organizes extensive campaign to prevent the Pentagon from extending wartime conscription into universal military training.
1950s: Helps organize the American Committee on Africa (now part of Africa Action) to support African independence movements. Conducts 6-year Food for China program in response to Chinese famines. FOR staff work with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery bus boycott, and hold workshops in nonviolence throughout the South. Its full-color comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, sells over 250,000 copies.
1960s: Launches Shelters for the Shelterless, building real shelters for homeless people, in response to increasing public demand for fallout shelters. Makes contact with Vietnamese Buddhist pacifist movement and sponsors Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s world tour. Forms International Committee of Conscience on Vietnam with 10,000 clergy in 40 countries, and raises money for medical aid for both sides in Vietnam.
1970s: Founds Dai Dong, a transnational project linking war, environmental problems, poverty and other social issues, involving thousands of scientists around the world. Seeks to reverse the Cold War and the arms race with campaigns, marches, educational projects and civil disobedience. Opposes death penalty in concerted campaign with ACLU.
1980s: Takes a leading role in the Nuclear Freeze Campaign in cooperation with other groups. Initiates U.S.-USSR reconciliation program, including people-to-people exchanges, artistic and educational resources, teach-ins and conferences. Leads nonviolence training seminars in the Philippines prior to the nonviolent overthrow of the Marcosdictatorship.
1990s: Sends delegations of religious leaders and peace activists to Iraq to try to prevent war and later, to see the massive devastation caused by the economic sanctions imposed upon Iraq. Starts the Campaign to Save a Generation, an ongoing project centered on saving Iraqi children from the horrors of the sanctions, and American children from the poverty rampant in the United States. Launches “Stop the Killing, Start the Healing” campaign in response to escalating levels of gun violence in the U.S. Initiates Bosnian Student Project, bringing students from the former Yugoslavia out of war zones and into U.S. homes and schools, and later starts the International Reconciliation Work Camp Project. Works to bring an end to the suffering of the Serbs and Kosovars during and after the war. Works to ensure the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Panama.
2000s: Organizes a People’s Campaign for Peace and Justice to inspire nonviolent witness in Washington, D.C. and nationwide. Accepts invitation from the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó to provide protective human rights accompaniment in a rural war zone in Colombia. Launches the I Will Not Kill campaign for young people to make a life commitment to resist participating in violence. Pressures the U.S. military to end its testing of bombs in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and to be accountable for the environmental devastation of the island. Sends delegations of people committed to civilian diplomacy to Iran to build relationships between the West and Iran, and to seek to prevent militaryintervention.
FOR supporters have included, among many others, such world leaders as Albert Einstein,Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and Coretta Scott King.
The centennial events include:
Centennial exhibit opening reception, Thurs., Nov. 5,6-8 pm at the Union Theological Seminary, James Chapel, 3041 Broadway (at 121st St.). , New York, NY. Exhibit showing from Nov. 5 to 30. The exhibit features images chosen from 1000 Fellowship and The World of Tomorrow magazine covers, various other FOR publications and extensive photo archives. The exhibit is on until Nov. 30 and is free and open to thepublic.
A wine and cheese reception and the premiere of a short film on the FOR centennial takes place atFOR USA’s national headquarters, Shadowcliff, 521 N. Broadway, Nyack,N.Y., on Fri., Nov. 6, 5:30-8 pm. The evening offers an opportunity to visit the stately mansion that has been home base for staff and a refuge for peace workers for more than 50 years; and enjoy the view of the mighty Hudson River. This event is free and open to the public.
On Sat., Nov. 7, 3-4:15 pm, a multifaith service takes place in the Nave at Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Dr., New York. The service honors the various faith traditions that are the fabric of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and will feature performers Lisa Sokolov, Naaz Hosseini, and Guy Davis.Free and open to the public.
Later, from 5:30-7 pm is a reception and silent auction at Riverside Church, followed at 7 pm by a dinner and program. Further information on the FOR centennial can found here.
FOR comprises a number of smaller member groups adhering to many different religious denominations. For a list of them and appropriate contacts, see here.
Next summer, July 1-4, the FOR national conference will be held at the Seabeck Conference Center, 13395 Lagoon Drive, NW, Seabeck,Wash.