By The Rev’d Deb Bird: While searching for Advent material, I came across Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, a devotional highlighting the work of dedicated peacemakers around the world.

The daily stories reflect the human need to find a place of peace wherever we are – in our homes, communities, and with others, and explores the action of peacemaking as the Advent work of preparation during which we grapple with the uncertainties of the world and our call to address the brokenness we witness as we keep watch for the movement of God among us.

The devotional begins with a reflection by Michael T McRay, who worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. He describes how he documented violence towards Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli soldiers, noting that “We needed to keep watch.”

McRay goes on to write about a close friend, Jeannie, who is working to help release her partner, a political prisoner:

“In my study, teaching and practice of peace building, I’ve learned that the work of peace is the work of preparation. We wait, yes, but we have much to do while we wait. My best friend, Jeannie Alexander, is waiting for her beloved to be freed from the cage of prison. Year after year, she waits. But part of her waiting is working to make better laws so he can return home sooner. The waiting of Advent, like the waiting of peacemaking, is an active waiting. As the African proverb says, “’When you pray, move your feet.’”

After a wearing year juggling shifting ministry needs in the COVID-19 environment, I found this devotional a bit of balm for the soul. Reaching out to ordained and lay faith and justice leaders across the Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic and Uniting Churches, we discovered a common need to spend time in reflection and reorientation and agreed to make this devotional the centre of our Advent practice.

We read the daily devotional individually and gathered for conversation on Thursday mornings at St Anne’s Anglican Church in Toowoomba. We chatted about the stories that spoke to us, about the questions that confronted or illuminated our experiences, and finished with one of the week’s prayers.

Simply getting together and holding space for each other in the course of our Advent devotional journey was restorative, enabling us to do some reconciliation with the events of the past year and make peace within ourselves.

Our discussions helped soften the ground for peace to break through for us in Advent, and in doing so highlighted the importance of keeping watch for each other, seeking out networks that nurture us and forming organic deaneries of souls who connect in a way that offer us rest amid the work of caring for our communities.

The two anglican focus ‘Creating communities of care’ and ‘Clergy mental health’ series, highlight the need for active caring and sharing of ministries across a parish, that faith communities might be places where laity and ordained alike are able to flourish.

Keep Watch With Me is a devotional with wide application that I’m eager to use with a broader group next Advent. It was an unexpected joy that has reminded us there is much we can do while we wait and underscored the small, but significant, ways we can walk together in the way of peace.

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