Bethany Theological Seminary is encouraging seminary and graduate school, college, and high school students to think creatively about peacemaking and to share those thoughts for the greater good. The Bethany Peace Essay Contest is being reinstated this coming January as part of the peace studies program at the Seminary.
Open to full- and part-time students in the above categories who are fully enrolled in a program en route to a degree, the contest invites reflections on how personal and local peacemaking efforts can address universal concerns. Participants may choose to explore this theme in one of the following areas, relating to personal experience: art, music, or poetry; the just peace movement; protest or change movements; social media, or interfaith efforts. Prizes of $2000, $1000, and $500 will be awarded for the top three essays.
A natural fit within the teaching and learning in peace studies at Bethany, the essay contest is underwritten by the Jennie Calhoun Baker Endowment, funded by John C. Baker in honor of his mother. Described as a “Church of the Brethren woman ahead of her time,” Jennie was known for actively pursuing peacemaking by meeting the needs of others, providing community leadership, and upholding the value of creative and independent thinking in education. John Baker saw her vision and modeling of contemporary peacemaking reflected in Bethany’s collaborative leadership among the three Historic Peace Churches and thus selected the Seminary to administer the endowment’s programs.
John Baker, a philanthropist for peace with a distinguished career in higher education, and his wife had also helped establish the peace studies program at Bethany with an earlier endowment gift. “John and Elizabeth Baker were deeply committed to building cultures of peace,” says Scott Holland, professor of theology and culture and director of peace studies and cross-cultural studies at Bethany. “This peace essay contest is intended to encourage thoughtful writing on peace in essays that are informed by the rich traditions of God's shalom and Christ's peace yet articulated in voices that are public, ecumenical, and interfaith. There is also the hope that this contest will lead to international networking and partnerships in pursuit of peace.”
Holland is administrator of the Baker endowment programs and is working with a new Peace Essay Contest Committee to re-envision the contest after a hiatus of several years. Committee members are from the Historic Peace Churches: Kirsten Beachy, assistant professor of visual and communication arts at Eastern Mennonite University (Mennonite); Nate Hosler, Office of Public Witness for the Church of the Brethren; Abbey Pratt-Harrington, 2013 alumna of the Earlham School of Religion (Friends); Anne-Marie Roderick, student at Union Theological Seminary (Brethren); and Lonnie Valentine, professor of peace and justice studies at ESR (Friends).
Bekah Houff, coordinator of outreach programs at Bethany, chairs the committee and is assisting with the administration of the contest. “The committee has been fabulous to work with and represents a variety of talents and experiences. Their input and planning have been crucial to the process. We hope to have some good ecumenical involvement in the contest while mostly focusing on the peace churches in our publicity. In the future we hope to expand to different forms of media for entries, such as video and art.” Holland also notes that the endowment can be used to underwrite peace sermon contests, which have been held previously and likely will be again.
Judges of the essays include Holland and Valentine; Anna Groff, associate editor of The Mennonite magazine; and Randy Miller, editor of Messenger magazine. Essays can be submitted between January 1 and January 27, 2014, and results will be announced by the end of February 2014. Plans are being made to publish the winning essays in some of the journals and magazines of the Church of the Brethren, Friends, and Mennonite faith communities. For guidelines, terms, and submission procedures, go to www.bethanyseminary.edu/peace-essay . Contact Bekah Houff at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 765-983-1809 for additional information.