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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2006 Archives > September-October 2006 > Peacemaking Takes Many Forms

Peacemaking Takes Many Forms

When the war in Iraq began in early 2003, United Methodists reacted and responded in a variety of ways – and they have continued to do so. Phone cards and care packages have been sent to troops. Congregations have discussed whether the war is “just.” They have remembered people from many countries who have died. Many congregations, sometimes even as they questioned the war, have adopted resolutions and taken other actions to support soldiers. These are just a few stories of United Methodists responding.

Air National Guard chaplain Richard Denison distributes 28 dresses shipped to Iraq. Photo courtesy of Richard Denison.
‘Sew for Peace’
reaches Iraqi children

It began with a simple request by an Air National Guard chaplain. A year and a half later more than 500 girls in war-torn Iraq have new dresses – and United Methodist women from throughout central Pennsylvania are continuing their ministry to “Sew for Peace.”

When the Rev. Richard Denison, pastor at Paxton United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, Pa., was on his second tour as a chaplain with the Air National Guard 193rd Special Operations Wing in Iraq, he visited many small villages near his base. In April 2005, as Denison distributed sweat suits to the children, a little girl asked him if he had any dresses. He replied that he did not, but he knew who he could ask to make some.

Denison e-mailed Ellen Shatto, Paxton lay leader, and asked if she could have some of the women in the church make a “few” dresses for young girls. Within a few months they sent 28 dresses and matching sandals to Iraq.

“End of story, or so we thought,” Shatto said, until a second e-mail arrived.

This Iraqi girl’s dress provided the model for “Sew for Peace.” Photo courtesy of Richard Denison.
“Would you consider making dresses for another village named Assyria?” Denison wrote. “There are 900 girls attending school there.”

The Paxton women agreed — and knew they needed help. They began inviting friends and relatives to join them. Volunteers from 11 United Methodist churches are now part of the “Sew for Peace” ministry with Shatto as general chair and Cecilia Sevon coordinating the lead Paxton group. In November 2005, the first shipment of 128 dresses and 55 pairs of sandals went to Assyria.

Denison returned to Paxton Church in November 2005, but the ministry has continued. More than 500 dresses had been sent as of mid-June.

Every Thursday the Paxton women meet to cut out the dresses and prepare kits with the pieces and instructions to make one dress. Others then pick up the kits, assemble the dresses and return them to Paxton for shipping. United Methodist churches participating are Baughman (New Cumberland), Bethany (Dover), Chestnut Grove  (Dillsburg), Fishing Creek Salem (Etters), Grace (Millersburg), Grace (Wellsville) and Camp Curtin-Mitchell Memorial, Charlton and Linglestown, all in Harrisburg.

Local media coverage of “Sew for Peace” has brought donations, which help provide the fabric and cover shipping costs.

“As Christians we are called to be peacemakers,” Shatto said. “It is our fervent hope and prayer that these acts of kindness will paint a different picture of Americans to these young girls, and that as they grow and become mothers themselves, they may see America as the truly Christian, caring nation that we are, and teach their children these same attitudes. Only then can we hope for a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.”

For more information on “Sew for Peace,” contact Shatto at (717) 545-7994 or, or Sevon at (717) 545-2730 or

—Kathy Noble, editor, Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine


Onita Barkley (from left), Mary Blomstedt and Nancy Smith prepare the “cool collar” care packages for shipment. The United Methodist Women’s Circle of Faith at First United Methodist Church in Roswell, N.M., sews the cool collars and includes them in care packages that are mailed to soldiers in Iraq.
UMNS photo by Carey Moots

‘Cool collars’ help
soldiers fight the heat

Long sleeves, pants and body armor provide some protection for United States soldiers serving in Iraq, but do nothing to combat the heat. Average high temperatures in Baghdad run over 110 degrees during peak summer months.

United Methodist Women at First United Methodist Church in Roswell, N.M., have found a simple way to provide some relief. It is a strip of khaki fabric that is more than two feet long and two inches wide with polymer granules sewn into a pocket in the center. When soaked in water for a short time, the crystals expand and will stay wet for a whole day.

The ladies call them “cool collars.” Soldiers can wear them around their necks or they can put them in their helmets to help bring down their body temperature, said Onita Barkley, chairwoman of the group.

Their first shipment of 106 went to a United Methodist chaplain to distribute.

The women pack cardboard Priority Mail boxes with the cool collars and other items. Each is sent to an individual and includes a personal note.

One woman wrote, “God loves you all. Thank you guys again. We are all so proud of you over there serving our country. You are in our prayers at First United Methodist Church and all over the country, in all different churches, we love you all. God bless, Billie Turner.”

—Adapted from a United Methodist News Service story by
Lilla Marigza, freelance producer, Nashville, Tenn.


Tacoma congregation declares ‘sanctuary’ for war resisters

In the middle of a city surrounded by military bases, First United Methodist Church  in Tacoma, Wash., is opening its doors to military personnel who may question the legitimacy of orders to fight in Iraq.

In June, the church’s administrative council unanimously declared the church a “sanctuary” for members of the armed forces with moral qualms about participating in military activities that may violate their conscience.

“We ask a lot of our soldiers, and we’re all told to support our troops, but do we really take seriously the moral quandaries that they may feel they’ve been put in? It’s a completely logical thing for the church to create that quiet and supportive space for people to sort things out,” Mary Lynn, the congregation’s lay leader, said.

The Rev. Monty Smith, Tacoma First pastor and a former military officer, said the congregation’s decision shouldn’t be construed as anti-military.

“I personally would never do anything to dishonor the military uniform or those wearing it,” he said, “nor would this church, in a community that is so populated by the military. This is the best way for us to support our troops,” he said. Smith also acknowledged that not everyone in the congregation supported the action.

Volunteers planned to distribute leaflets on nearby bases with the number of a telephone hotline for soldiers or their families to call.

The council’s resolution also noted the congregation cannot protect military personnel from legal consequences of their actions. Smith said the church would not block the detention of resisters if the military or police came knocking.

—Adapted from a United Methodist News Service story by
Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist missionary and
senior correpondent for
Response Magazine


Study Resource for Local Churches

“In Search of Security” is a study inviting United Methodists to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully a faithful understanding of security in a post-Sept. 11 world.

Copies of the 32-page study, designed to be used over four weeks in local churches, are available to download in PDF format from the Resources section of the General Board of Church and Society’s Web site, They also can be ordered from the agency’s Service Department by calling (800) 967-0880.

Crafting the “In Search of Security” study were Bishops Walter Klaiber of Germany (now retired); Timothy W. Whitaker, Florida; Jose Quipungo, Eastern Angola; and William Boyd Grove, Alfred Johnson and Dale White, all retired.

“In Search of Security” is not an official document of the Council of Bishops, but it is approved by the Council for use by local congregations, said Mark Harrison, director of the peace with justice program at the Board of Church and Society.


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