Peace Project brings together diverse peoples

Posted Aug 20, 2012

Peacemakers of the Maplewood Peace Project at Ascension gather together the eve before the Peace Train leaves the station to spread the message of peace to the community. Photo/Laurie Phillips

[Church of the Ascension] When the new priest-in-charge, the Rev. Patricia Cashman, arrived at the Church of the Ascension in May of 2011, the church hosted very few activities.

Located in Rochester, New York, a city hard hit by Eastman Kodak’s decline into bankruptcy, Cashman wanted her church to become more involved in the neighborhood. Maplewood was no longer the safe and thriving place it had been when Kodak had employed 80,000 people; fear, poverty and violence were challenges Ascension had never faced before in its 125 years.

Cashman had previously designed a community project with the theme of peace in another poverty stricken city and thought it could work in Maplewood. With the help of one intrepid vestry member, Laurie Phillips, the two sat down and applied for a grant from the Diocese of Rochester. They were rewarded $2,000 and Ascension added another $1,000 to begin work on The Maplewood Peace Project at Ascension.

The goal of the event was to bring people together to teach peace making skills using art, music, dance and drama. Cashman and Phillips worked to advertise and promote the event, finding a warm reception for their idea from crime-weary storeowners and the city’s Northwest Service Center. Following the mission of the diocese to extend radical hospitality, they made the program free and open to people of all ages, all faiths and all cultures, they said.

An Ascension member, who works for the city, steered the two women to Sara Hughes of the Possibility Project, who came on board bringing with her a cadre of seasoned adults and teens that included a composer and a choreographer. Michelle Cardulla, founder of The Museum of Kids Art, signed on as art director.

The project took its theme from the 1970s song by Cat Stevens, called The Peace Train. Working just seven evenings and drawing an average of 43 persons, strangers turned into friends as chip board got painted and a poem, rap, dance and song got created. Youth and adults worked side by side enjoying the opportunity to have fun. Many of the youth came from the Burmese refugee population. There are 3,000 refugees in Rochester and some are Anglicans finding a home at Ascension.

The Peace Train, 14 “cars” long, left Ascension on the evening of Aug. 16 for the Maplewood Rose Garden, a prominent city park, to perform and spread the message of peace. “We can grow into something powerful. A flame just starts with a spark. It’s time to ignite…Stop judging – we’ve always done wrong – and help us do right. The positive things will show because from darkness a flame can grow… We have a strong voice; let’s roar. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Peace.” youth poets, Summer Adams, 16, and Crystal Edwards, 19, shared some of their yearning for peace in their poem, Drop Bass Not Bombs.