In early June a pastor friend of mine asked me to participate in a walk from his church in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, to a park in the center of town. He told me that “God had put it on his heart” to pray for peace in our community, our nation and the world. Why not walk around our community, where we live, praying as we walk, he asked? And so, he decided to call this a “Walk for Peace.” Along the way, we made several stops in order to pray. When we arrived at the park, we read scripture, offered prayers for Chattanooga, our country and the world. In between the scripture readings and the prayers, we all joined together in song. After we finished, each church community represented was asked to participate in a similar walk in their community.
The parish I serve is located in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, a small community near Chattanooga. Within a short walk from our church you pass the local elementary school, a Presbyterian Church, the city hall, fire and police department, a veterinarian’s office, dentist, community newspaper, post office and restaurant. With these places in mind, we designed our walk to stop at each of these locations and pray for each, using prayers from our Book of Common Prayer and other authorized sources. After these prayers were read, we invited prayers from the participants. We ended our walk at the town commons where we celebrated the Eucharist together.
As we were preparing for and organizing our walk, I began to think about the nature and meaning of peace. The Hebrew word we translate as peace is shalom. In defining shalom, my Bible dictionary said the word is a “pervasive concept in the Bible that most commonly relates to a relationship of love and loyalty with God and one another.” This definition informed me as we walked and stopped at each location. At each stop we petitioned God for guidance, wisdom, strength, patience, and grace. Our prayers drew on and strengthened our relationship with God, while simultaneously connecting us to the institution or business where we stopped. As we prayed, we were reminded of the people—fellow human beings and children of God—who worked at and were involved in each place.
It is difficult to describe the deep feeling of shalom I experienced both during and after the walk. I felt connected to, and in relationship with, my community as we paused and prayed at each stop. During the walk, I thought of all the schools I have attended; the churches where I have worshipped; the towns I have called home; the doctors who have brought healing and health to me; the journalists who have broadened my world with their reporting; the civil servants who dedicate themselves to making our community better; and all those who produce, labor, transport and prepare food to nourish our bodies. Though we prayed for our specific community, I realized that these prayers extended far beyond Lookout Mountain. Shalom with and in my community made me aware of my connection to and relationship with the world beyond the borders of my town.
In 2nd Corinthians, the apostle Paul reminds us that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation… everything has become new…[and we have been given] the ministry of reconciliation…So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2nd Corinthians 5:17,18,20). Walking through and praying for our community helped me to see more clearly and be connected to the “new creation” that is in our midst. As we finished our walk and worship, I could see in the eyes of my fellow “pilgrims” that this walk had touched their hearts as well. Pausing at these various landmarks, being still in prayer, remembering their purpose, place and influence in (and on) our community made an impact on them. They saw these places in a new way. Maybe we were all seeing with the eyes of Christ? Maybe this walk for peace opened the eyes of our hearts? Certainly, for each of us it was a vivid reminder of our call to be Christ’s ambassadors in our neighborhood and in the world. Already, people are asking when the next walk will take place.
Grace and peace,
Church of the Good Shepherd
Lookout Mountain, TN USA