Faith groups join together for State College Peace Walk

In Pasadena, Calif., for several years churches have been taking to the streets on Palm Sunday to march for peace. With Jesus’ peaceful and prophetic entry into Jerusalem as inspiration, participants wave palm leaves and sing songs as they travel to the center of town to speak out against violence in our world. Pasadena’s Palm Sunday Peace Parade has also inspired participants to re-create this event when they move away from Pasadena to a new area in several other locations across the country.

I’m one of those people.

I spent four years in Pasadena while in grad school. During that time, I was enthralled by the power of people of faith publicly celebrating peace. Last fall I pitched the idea to a few friends and colleagues in State College, and I was excited that there seemed to be interest in making it happen here.

As this small group of people gathered to dream about what a Palm Sunday event would look like in State College, we decided that, rather than simply calling for an end to violence in the world, we would focus on how people are already working for peace here in our town. Our hope was that we would be building a participatory community event that would bring together the area’s diverse Christian community to notice and acknowledge organizations that are hard at work.

We mapped out a 1.2-mile walk that started with a short program at University Baptist & Brethren Church and ended at Faith United Church of Christ. We decided it would also be beneficial to end with a simple soup meal so that participants could continue the conversation with their new friends after the walk was complete.

On March 20, we were thrilled to watch this event take place. More than 100 members of our community from 10 different churches took to the streets to celebrate peace in State College’s first Palm Sunday Peace Walk.

The Peace Walk visited the Community Help Centre, Women’s Resource Center, Housing Transitions, State College Police Department, Hearts for Homeless and Penn State to hear stories about how those local organizations were serving the people God urges us to serve: the poor, the sick, the isolated, the downtrodden and imprisoned. At each stop, faith leaders from State College offered a prayer of blessing for the work being done to create peace.

Reflecting back on this event gives me joy. It was inspiring to participate in an event that brought together a diverse group around a common cause. Our town’s faith groups have so much potential for collaborative work, yet we often stay confined to our own spaces. I wonder what might happen if we step out beyond what is already in place. Could the Palm Sunday Peace Walk be an inspiring model for other faith communities to reach into their traditions and mark their own day to lift up peace? Events like this show there are people desiring to connect beyond their buildings. Perhaps a collaborative and interfaith peace center could take shape. We hope that this event will continue into the future to inspire future generations to work for peace.

Ben Wideman is campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective (ben@3rdwaycollective.org), a Penn State student organization dedicated to peace, justice, and faith. He lives in State College with his wife and children, and enjoys spending time exploring central Pennsylvania with his family.