Bethany Seminary has announced the winners of the 2015 Peace Essay Contest on the theme Peacemaking, Creation Justice, and the Beloved Community. Katerina Friesen, an MDiv student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, received first place for her essay “Planting the Church: Toward an Anabaptist Theology of Place.” Second place went to Jillian Foerster, a student at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University for her essay “Powering a Movement with Stories.” Gabriella Stocksdale from Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois, received third place with the essay “Small Things.” Prizes of $2000, $1000, and $500 were awarded, respectively.
Scott Holland, Slabaugh Professor of Theology and Culture at Bethany, says this theme was selected as important for our time and one generating increased interest. Through his connections with students of theology and science as well as persons in agriculture and related fields, he has heard common concerns: “the conviction that it will be difficult to achieve peace among the nations unless we together make peace with the gift of God’s creation through responsible stewardship of the land.” Holland oversees the Seminary’s peace studies program, which sponsors the contest.
Ben Brazil, assistant professor and director of the Ministry of Writing Program at Earlham School of Religion, served as a planning committee member and a judge of the essays. “Our prompt asked writers to do something hard—to think about the environment not just as an isolated issue but as a central part of a much bigger fight for social justice. I was really impressed by the very different ways our writers rose to the challenge.”
Representatives of the Historic Peace Churches—Mennonite, Quaker, and Brethren—were invited to assist with the contest. Along with Holland, Randy Miller, editor of Messenger magazine, and Joanna Shenk, one of the pastors at First Mennonite Church in San Francisco, served on the planning committee and as judges. Additional committee members were Kirsten Beachy, assistant professor of visual and communication arts at Eastern Mennonite University, and Abbey Pratt-Harrington, alumna of the Earlham School of Religion. Bekah Houff, coordinator of outreach relations at Bethany, chairs the committee and helps administer the contest.
Reinstated in 2014, the Bethany Peace Essay Contest is meant to encourage creative thinking and writing across faith traditions about various manifestations and conceptions of peace. It is underwritten by the Jennie Calhoun Baker Endowment, funded by philanthropist and educator John C. Baker in honor of his mother. Described as a “Church of the Brethren woman ahead of her time,” Jennie was known for actively pursuing peacemaking by meeting the needs of others, providing community leadership, and upholding the value of creative and independent thinking in education. Baker and his wife had also helped establish the peace studies program at Bethany with an earlier endowment gift.
The winning essays will appear in selected publications of the Church of the Brethren, Quaker, and Mennonite faith communities.