Collaboration and Creativity: Kids As Peacemakers at Oakton Church of the Brethren

In November 2023, a group of children gathered at Oakton Church of the Brethren in Oakton, VA, wielding pencils and paintbrushes to create a mural and to define peace. Some of the kids were from the Oakton Partners in Learning (OPIL) program while the others were a part of the Children’s Church. Despite their different backgrounds, according to Tim Hollenberg-Duffey, co-pastor at Oakton Church of the Brethren, they “found common ground: a desire to learn.” Using On Earth Peace’s Kids as Peacemakers (KAP) curriculum, this small group developed a strong understanding of active nonviolence. The kids, utilizing their newfound peacemaking knowledge, drew a scale, depicting peace winning over violence. They wanted to show the importance of standing in unity with the vulnerable instead of getting caught up in violence. The mural embodied everything this group learned and symbolized their long-term commitment to bringing peace to their community and beyond.

Tim and Audrey Hollenberg-Duffey joined the Oakton Church of the Brethren in 2019 as co-pastors. They both graduated from Bridgewater College in 2011 and Bethany Theological Seminary in 2014 before taking their first pastorate in Hagerstown, MD. They have a unique approach of “harmonized ministry,” collaborating with one another and the entire congregation to create a lasting impact on their community. In the Fall of 2023, Tim and Audrey worked alongside Debbie Seidel, Director of Family Ministry and Coordinator of OPIL to develop a group of young peacemakers. Debbie joined Oakton in 2006 and has extensive experience in education, having worked in the Fairfax County Public Schools for 21 years, as an elementary school teacher for 14 years, and most recently, as a school librarian. She recognized that Fairfax County has a high level of academic competition, resulting in parents regularly paying for tutoring for their children. However, there are not many options for students that cannot pay for such services. Thus, Debbie developed a secular tutoring program for academic success, Oakton Partners in Learning (OPIL) with the help of the Brethren Faith in Action Grant, providing one-on-one tutoring and English language assistance for adults and children. The program utilizes trained tutors in a variety of subjects to “gives kids who can’t pay a chance to flourish,” according to Tim.  

Considering the success of the program, Tim wanted to expand OPIL’s focus and join his Children’s Church group with the tutoring program for a more value-centered project. “It came from my own desire to connect the program to some basic Brethren values, namely peacemaking, in a more intentional way, not necessarily a religious way,” Tim stated. “I knew [OEP] had a non-religious curriculum and asked about it.” Marie Benner-Rhoades, Co-Executive Director and Youth & Young Adult Peace Formation Director provided Tim with the KAP non-religious curriculum (also available as a religious curriculum). The curriculum is designed to teach children about peacemaking through a variety of activities and a collaborative, final project: a mural. 

Five kids total joined the KAP project, including students from OPIL and regular Children’s Church attendees. Tim noted that the group really made the project their own and even held more than the five gatherings outlined in the curriculum, meeting eleven to twelve times instead. “The curriculum has a great integration of conversational prompts and activities,” Tim said. He noted that a few activities, in particular, really stuck with the kids. In one of these activities, the group worked to understand peace on a global scale. They split into two groups – each representing a fictional country. One country was far wealthier than the other with a successful crab industry and a robust military that invaded other countries for resources. The other country specialized in cardboard box manufacturing. “After they developed their countries, they met and bantered about one being extraordinary and the other being, well, a cardboard box manufacturer,” Tim said. “We were able to talk about how this plays out on a global scale, how countries with greater wealth also have greater military might and can push their weight around and take resources from others.” 

Another exercise required the group to write the first five things that came to mind when they thought about violence and peace. Predictably, the group wrote some grim answers for violence and, alternatively, some positive examples of peace. “The thing was, though, they hadn’t experienced any of the things they wrote for violence but regularly experienced the acts of peace they wrote,” Tim noted. “It really demonstrated their proximity to peace. It also demonstrated our power of peacemaking. Yes, violence can pop up at any given time, and yet, it doesn’t as frequently as we think it does.” Using these exercises, the final project, the mural, was completed with the children sharing their ideas and newfound understanding about peace to create a remarkable work of art. 

The KAP project was undoubtedly a success for the Oakton Church of the Brethren. Tim views this outcome as an inspiration for further growth. “There are opportunities to reach further to our high school or local elementary school to pursue some of these values a little further in a grounded way that isn’t reliant on religious faith but founded on religious values,” Tim enthused. “Children and young people are being formed to think violently and competitively when that need not be the driving force of our society. We can use those tools and resources to get the general public to think of peacemaking before power, control, and competition.” 

“There was nothing unique about Oakton utilizing this curriculum. It’s easy to replicate,” Tim stated, encouraging others to consider the KAP curriculum or similar projects. “It’s an opportunity to connect over something we all value: peacemaking.” There are plenty of opportunities to bring peacemaking to our communities; it simply requires the drive to implement it.

If you are interested in using the Kids as Peacemakers (KAP) Curriculum (religious or nonreligious), please reach out to Marie at [email protected]. Want to get your entire congregation involved? Consider joining our “1,000 Brethren” goal to train 1,000 Brethren in Kingian Nonviolence and register for one of our upcoming KNV trainings. 

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  • Elizabeth Gaver
    published this page in Blog 2024-02-14 10:01:03 -0500
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