Harrisonburg resident Sarah Snider and Jennifer Weaver
Melodie Davis
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
HARRISONBURG, VA. (Mennonite Mission Network) On a list of mission possibilities, “peace missionary in Harrisonburg, Va.,” at first glance sounds about as necessary as selling bathing suits in Anarctica.
 
Nineveh it’s not. But neither is it Walden Pond, even for the area’s diehard pacifists from the Anabaptist tradition.
 
Four women make up an intentional community in Harrisonburg called “Peace House.” One of their favorite Internet tools in this endeavor is the Third Way Café Web site produced by Mennonite Media of Mennonite Mission Network.
 
“Our intention,” said community member Tamara Gill, “is to be accessible to those who don’t know much about Mennonites. It seems like Third Way Café’s goals are similar.”
 
Visionaries from the Harrisonburg District of the Virginia Conference of Mennonite Church USA began Peace House three years ago as an outreach especially towards the student population of James Madison University, a state university in Harrisonburg with over 15,000 students.

According to its own Web site, the goal of Peace House is for its members (and the church) “to cultivate genuine relationships between JMU students from ‘post-modern culture’ and the Mennonite community.” A ministry support team from the Harrisonburg District oversees the work of Peace House and meets with community members approximately once a month.

Alicia Horst noted that last year a non-Mennonite living in the house perused Third Way Café frequently because he found it was a good tool to become better acquainted with Mennonite beliefs. 

“The people we connect with might have heard of Mennonites or confused them with Mormons or Amish. Third Way Café seems to be intersecting with the same kinds of people,” said Alicia Horst.

Seekers indicate that Third Way Café is a “good place to go to find what kinds of issues Mennonites are interested in, about the Mennonite peace stance and the peace stories,” said Horst. The Peace House webpage links to Third Way Café. 

Peace House residents have found students to be positive and deeply interested in peace and social justice. Carmen Horst said the usual response she hears when talking with kids about Peace House and its purposes is, “Ah, peace…. Cool!” Peace House members also gather for worship on Wednesday and Friday mornings. They read the Bible aloud a chapter at a time and discuss what they read.
 
On Thursday evenings they share a community meal, issuing a standing invitation to all contacts to drop by for dinner, conversation and hanging out around an old table in the dining room. During special coffeehouse nights, people gather in the living room around a fireplace and donated baby grand piano.
 
The residents take turns preparing the community meal, as well as sharing all other household chores. Three of the current residents this year study at nearby Eastern Mennonite Seminary and one is a recent graduate. Some years there have been JMU students living at Peace House, which made for more natural connections to the campus.
 
This year Peace House community members include Tamara Gill, Wooster, Ohio; Jennifer Weaver, Lancaster, Pa.; Carmen Horst, Chambersburg, Pa.; and Alicia Horst, Harrisonburg.
 
Gill brings a passion for building community. She previously volunteered with four local ministries in Ohio and one day hopes to work with a church as a community resource person.

Weaver wants to work in some way with teaching or teacher education. Carmen Horst served earlier with Mennonite Central Committee in El Salvador for three years and became very interested in Biblical languages.

Alicia Horst, in her second year at Peace House, works fulltime for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Harrisonburg/Rockingham County and earned a master's of divinity degree from EMS in 2006. She does not plan to become a pastor but is interested in cross-cultural aspects of the church, particularly how the global south has more Mennonites than the north. 

“We work at finding ways for the church to be relevant in the world,” explained Alicia Horst.

They also help people connect with pacifist traditions in other Christian churches. 

However, the mission of Peace House is not to make converts; the residents are more interested in conversation and dialogue than getting anyone to attend church services. The four attend different congregations, from traditional but outreach-oriented Mennonite churches to two of the more experimental congregations in the area.
 
Gardening, walking the dog, baking cookies to share with neighbors, and participating in city events and JMU discussions are some of the ways the house members work at connecting in the community. They also hope to start a Bible study for children.
 
“I’ve learned many valuable lessons this year,” says Gill, “like how to create dialogue between people—how people can voice different opinions respectfully and build meaningful connections.”
 
For more information on Peace House, visit their Web site, call (540)  432-3659 or write them at 264 Old South High Street, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801 or jmupeacehouse@gmail.com.

 

 

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