Summer Peacebuilding Institute’s online move expands global access to training

Summer Peacebuilding Institute

Graphic courtesy Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

When the Summer Peacebuilding Institute moved online this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it lost some of the aspects that attract people to the Eastern Mennonite University program each summer, like in-person networking and conversations shared over meals.

But it also opened the door for many to attend who otherwise couldn’t due to travelling and attendance costs, visa complications, and work commitments, said SPI director Bill Goldberg. “SPI is known for dialogue and deep conversations and our initial feedback from participants and professors suggests that the online format was a place where that still happened.”

This year, over 180 participants from 27 different countries tuned in to SPI sessions via video conference.

For a few groups, the online format and lowered cost allowed them to enroll an entire team. The Jamaica Mennonite Conference sent four pastors to SPI, sponsored by a grant from the C.P. and Izetta Yoder Mission Endowment Fund administered by Everence. Clyde Kratz, executive conference minister of Virginia Mennonite Conference, applied for the funding to assist in equipping Jamaican church leaders.

Kratz said he saw an opportunity for the pastors to apply the SPI courses to both their secular jobs and pastoral assignments. Many of the pastors in the conference also work in area schools.

“In my conversation with a number of pastors in Jamaica, I learned about their vocational endeavors in the school system and I believed that SPI’s educational components could benefit their work associated with the school as well as the congregation,” Kratz said.

Dillion Sinclair is a primary school guidance counselor. He and his wife, Esther, lead the Waterloo Mennonite Church in Kingston.

“The experience has been great, meeting and interacting with people from various parts of the world and also being taught by a dynamic lecturer,” Sinclair said. He took Lisa Schirch’s class, “Digital Peacebuilding and Peace Tech.”

“There were quite a few valuable things I learnt, but if I should choose one, it would be understanding the power of online communication for either good or evil, and the great task a peacebuilder has to counter online issues such as polarism and extremism,” he said.

Kratz said that, had SPI not gone online, he would have only been able to sponsor one attendee, given the costs of transportation, lodging and meals.

A team from the Church of England’s Diocese of Chester also found this an opportunity to learn together. Seven priests and administrators attended the “Trauma, Resilience, and Healing in Times of the Pandemic” course taught by Al Fuertes.

“I want to give the people I minister to and teach the language to be able to talk about what they are living through – to be able to name this time as ‘trauma’ and to use that naming as a starting point,” said Jenny Bridgman, a parish priest who also trains men and women for lay ministry. “Through Al’s teaching and the group sharing I have learned several approaches that might help me lead people to a place of healing beyond this time.”

Bridgman’s colleague and classmate, Christine Broad, is rector of the parish of Woodchurch, and dean of women in ministry in the Diocese of Chester. She intends to offer support to her colleagues as they navigate the pandemic’s effects on their communities, churches, and individual congregants. Broad said the SPI experience has been “amazing.”

What has she found most valuable about the course?

“Increased knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of trauma,  increased knowledge of resilience and healing processes, privilege of participating in an international learning community, privilege of learning from experts in the field … so on and so forth – so much!” Broad said.

If you missed SPI this year, CJP offers many online trainings and courses for credit or no-credit. View the full offerings of online programs at EMU here.


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