Fourteen people, including church-goers, college professors and community activists, gathered at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca on Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of bringing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR, back to Ithaca.
Jim Murphy, who heads up the Veterans Fellowship of Reconciliation, is leading the effort to relaunch an Ithaca chapter of FOR, which is the nation’s oldest interfaith peace organization. He called the meeting to see what role FOR’s greater organization could play if reintroduced.
Veterans’ outreach is what first brought Jim Murphy to FOR.
“I walked into a place where all they asked of me wasn’t religion; they asked me to be a pacifist, so right there we had people mentoring us on how to be a pacifist, and we were all combat vets for the most part,” he said. “I think FOR is accepting of everything, and it’s a good thing because we’re bonded on waging peace.”
The Veterans FOR serves Iraq and Afghanistan veterans through an emergency food plan set up with local Wegmans and GreenStar, as well as sending books to those who are in prison, Jim Murphy said.
Meeting attendees Wednesday night spoke to FOR’s trouble attracting young members, but acknowledged that Ithaca could be fertile ground for revitalizing the fellowship with politically active youth. Susan Murphy, a member of the Unitarian Church and part of the team working to bring FOR to Ithaca, said the meeting echoed FOR’s national concerns by identifying the lack of established venues for local youth to politically express themselves.
“It’s clear that communication in between the different and varying peace movements is a missing piece,” Susan Murphy said. “Everybody is so busy doing their own thing that there hasn’t become a clear mechanism enabling them to talk to each other.”
Mary Heckler was involved with the Hudson Valley FOR in Nyack, New York, before retiring to Ithaca, and formerly served as FOR’s event coordinator, volunteer coordinator and house manager. After the meeting, Hecker said FOR could wind up connecting various local organizations in order to address local and national issues.
“I think that what came out tonight about the racism and the drone work and the lack of communication within the town itself, within the community, college communities as well as everyday community, is lacking,” Heckler said.
Though their first meeting was in a Unitarian Church, FOR is an interfaith organization. However, there is heated internal debate regarding the acceptance of atheists and agnostics into the organization. Susan Murphy said during the recruitment process, the organization needs to be aware that many young adults identify as more “spiritual” than “religious.”
With its reemergence in the Ithaca area, the Murphys said FOR is looking to establish relationships with local chapters of other national and international organizations that focus on issues relating to war, race and the environment. One such organization is the Ithaca chapter of Amnesty International. Wayles Browne serves as the chapter’s treasurer and attended the meeting. He said he was delighted to see people of various faiths in attendance.
“Looking around the room, there were Catholics, there were Unitarians, other kinds of Protestants, there were Jewish people,” Browne said. “It is particularly an inter-religious organization — it brings churches and other religious organizations together — and I think that’s great, but I don’t have much to contribute to that myself.”
In response to meeting attendees’ calls for improved communication among local faith and organizing groups, Jim Murphy created an online talking circle that allows community organizers to submit and receive emails about their various events and projects.
Browne said he was pleased with the email group and has already used it to send out notice about the Amnesty chapter’s annual fundraiser, which was Sunday afternoon. It is one of the first instances in which the attendees of what may be a new FOR chapter coordinated their efforts.