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[PCUSANEWS] Former GA moderator, 4 PC(USA) clergy arrested protesting

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Date Wed, 27 Sep 2006 09:50:47 -0400

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06489 September 27, 2006

Former GA moderator, 4 PC(USA) clergy arrested protesting Iraq war

Antiwar thrust part of national 'Declaration of Peace'

by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE - A former Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly moderator and four Presbyterian ministers were among 71 people arrested in Washington, DC, during a series of peaceful protests against the Iraq war on Tuesday (Sept. 26).

Rick Ufford-Chase, 42, moderator of the PC(USA)'s 216th General Assembly in 2004, confirmed by cell phone that he was taken into custody while leading an interfaith anti-war procession on Capitol Hill.

"This one is really personal," said Ufford-Chase, an elder at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. "It just feels like I've spent three years trying to find proactive ways to insist on our (Christian) values about war and the situation in Iraq is getting worse. I finally decided it's time I have to do something to say no."

Ufford-Chase said he was attending the event in his official capacity as executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF), a position he accepted last summer after his two-year term as moderator expired.

Also arrested was the Rev. Roger Scott Powers, 47, associate pastor of First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD; and the Revs. Gwin E. Pratt, 57, and Tim F. Simpson, 43, both pastors at Lake Shore Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL.

The three men said they turned out after reading about the interfaith witness on Ufford-Chase's Internet blog:

A fourth Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, pastor at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, was also arrested, Ufford-Chase said.

"This particular war is so wrong," Pratt said. "It is so immoral. It is so unethical and unjust. So against what I've always believed that it's just no longer acceptable not to do something."

It was not immediately known if other Presbyterians were detained, including any of the 40 lay members from National Capital, New Castle and Baltimore presbyteries that Ufford-Chase estimated turned out for the nonviolent protests.

Demonstrators held sit-ins, prayer services and sing-alongs at four locations in the Capitol complex, including the central atrium of the Senate Hart Office Building.

"We got into the Senate building and held our witness there before we were arrested. So we felt good about it," Ufford-Chase said.

He said the demonstrations, which attracted members from a range of faith backgrounds as well as secular groups, began with a religious interfaith service at a nearby park. From there the group formed a procession to the Hart building.

Thirty-three of those arrested, including Ufford-Chase, Powers and the two Jacksonville pastors, were charged with unlawful assembly inside the Hart Building.

Thirty-eight more demonstrators, including Connors, were arrested at separate protests near the Capitol. Of those, 23 were charged with crossing a police line and 15 were charged with demonstrating without a permit.

Others arrested during the demonstrations included a Catholic activist and a member of a Quaker group, CNN reported. All of those arrested were cooperative with police.

Ufford-Chase said officers were congenial and at times warned protesters that they risked arrest if they didn't disband. He said those arrested were fined $50 and released after several hours in police custody.

"It's sad that it has to come to this," Simpson said of the civil disobedience. "But if talk doesn't work, something else has to happen. It is we who must act. We cannot simply turn to someone else and say you go. You be the prophetic presence. You treat your neighbor like Jesus taught us."

The demonstrations were reminiscent of the Vietnam era, with protesters strumming guitars, singing peace songs, holding flowers and wearing hats made of balloons, according to CNN.

Senate staffers watched the demonstrators from their offices. Protesters said that several workers gave them a thumbs-up or other signs of approval.

Coordinating the event was the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, which has organized dozens of anti-war protests around the country. The effort was part of the "Declaration of Peace" campaign, which called for a week of peaceful actions across the nation from Sept. 21-28, urging for prompt withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq.

More than 350 activities in communities across the country were set for the week, including protests, vigils, congressional office visits, and civil disobedience as participants try to persuade members of Congress to sign the declaration of peace.

The document demands that the Bush administration "establish a concrete and rapid plan to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq."

The declaration of peace was created after religious and secular peace groups, including the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Methodist Federation for Social Action and United for Peace and Justice, began discussions in January.

Since then, the document has received more than 12,000 signatures online. Thousands more signatures have been gathered in petition campaigns around the country, organizers said.

"This is the role of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship," Ufford-Chase said. "The peace fellowship is going to be standing up and encouraging Presbyterians to act on what they believe in concrete ways. This is really an important part of our witness."

Other faith-based groups backing the declaration of peace includes the United Church of Christ (Justice and Witness Ministries), the Unitarian Universalist Association, Pax Christi USA and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

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