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Local pastor responds to 'calling' to launch 'pro-peace campaign'

December 24, 2004

By Art Cummings


Deborah Rose/Spectrum

The Rev. Wayne Lavender, pastor of the New Milford United Methodist Church, will take a four-month sabbatical to launch a peace ministry within the church.


Wayne Lavender is a man who believes in putting his money where his mouth is.

Some people talk about finding housing for the needy. The Rev. Lavender personally led the effort to build four Habitat for Humanity units in New Milford in the mid-1990s.

There are those who pay lip service to helping orphaned children. The pastor of the New Milford United Methodist Church has traveled to Mozambique, and his church is nearing its $60,000 fund-raising goal to build a new orphanage in that African nation.

Some speak of the need to reach out and spread love to others. The Rev. Lavender and his family earlier this month adopted Candido Justino-Lavender, a 14-year-old orphan from Mozambique.

But never before has the Rev. Lavender set such a lofty goal than the one he announced to church members Dec. 12: He aims to establish a national peace movement - called Passing the Peace - within the United Methodist Church.

To accomplish that, the 47-year-old New Milford resident is taking a four-month sabbatical from his duties at the NMUMC, starting Jan. 2.

If that project is successful, the minister related, his “long-term goal is to turn it into a broader interfaith peace movement.”

The Rev. Lavender told his congregation that with all that is going on in the world today, this is “the scariest time I have lived in.

“Our country is involved in multiple wars,” he stated, citing the war on terror, war in Afghanistan and war in Iraq.

“I'm deeply concerned with the war in Iraq,” the pastor told his church members.

He said the war has “taken a terrible toll on our resources” and led to the death of nearly 1,300 Americans and between 15,000 and 100,000 Iraqis, depending on whose estimates you believe.

The Rev. Lavender said he believes the war in Iraq has increased the “hatred for America” among the billion Muslims in the world, and he fears there could be a nuclear attack on this country.

“It scares me gravely, and it scares me deeply,” he said somberly.

“Our nation needs to be a country that promotes peace and justice in the world,” he observed. “We need to be a country of the Marshall Plan and make friends, not enemies.

“When we do those things,” the pastor contended, “we make it less likely we will be attacked.”

The Rev. Lavender said he knows “hundreds of Methodist ministers, and only two of them are in favor of the war in Iraq.”

He also pointed out that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are both Methodists - the first time America's top two leaders have been from that denomination - and he believes that puts the church in a “unique position” to influence the White House.

Asked in a recent interview if his mission is anti-Bush, the Rev. Lavender quickly responded, “No, George Bush and Dick Cheney are members of my denomination. They are not the enemy.

“We respectfully disagree on ways to bring peace to the Middle East,” he stated.

Is Passing the Peace an anti-Iraq War movement?

“No, this is a pro-peace campaign,” the Rev. Lavender answered, “with the Iraq War perhaps the springboard for peace throughout the world.”

The minister, who has been at the NMUMC since 1993 after nine years as a pastor in Fairfield County, believes he is “the best person to do this.”

“I have felt a calling to make a difference in the church and in the world,” the Rev. Lavender told his congregants.

“I will leave the [local] church for four months,” he announced, “and will start a peace mission within the [national] church.”

The Rev. Lavender has the support of the leadership of the church, both regionally and locally.

Peg Molina said the pastor has “the strong support of the leadership of the church” and that the prospect of his four-month absence was “just sinking in” with some members.

Asked if there is any opposition within the church to his sabbatical, the Rev. Lavender smiled and quipped, “Our congregation's members don't always agree on what kind of coffee to serve after the service. We never have unanimity.

“I've heard overwhelming support,” he added, “and I've heard some people concerned with what will happen to the spiritual leadership during my absence.”

The pastor said the church will be in good hands with Pastoral Associate Linda Trautwein at the helm through the end of April, and he noted that he will participate in some church functions during his sabbatical.

The Rev. Lavender, who said he has the full support of his family - his wife, Pam, and their four sons - admits he isn't certain what he will have accomplished by April 30.

“I want to have a sense that I made a difference in moving the ball forward toward global peace,” he said.

He said it's “likely” he will have established a board of directors for Passing the Peace, and he is considering a visit to Iraq, but he said “it's too early” to predict specific accomplishments during the four-month sabbatical.

The Rev. Lavender stressed that Passing the Peace is a positive campaign that will offer alternative paths toward world peace.

“I would argue that the way to deal with terrorists is not through war and weapons, but through other peacemaking efforts,” he observed.

We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we do about living.

General Omar Bradley