Junaluska Peace Conference a success

By Michael Rich | Mar 31, 2014
Photo by: Michael Rich PEACE CONFERENCE — Sheriff Greg Christopher spoke at the Peace Conference on Friday, March 28, about prison recidivism.

The sixth annual Peace Conference was held at Lake Junaluska Assembly from Thursday, March 27- Sunday, March 30, and included an international line-up of speakers and workshop leaders who are among the best in their fields.  The conference was international and interfaith by design, but it was also very much a product of Haywood County.

The beginnings of the Peace Conference are traced to conversations that began over eight years ago when Dr. Wright Spears, a retired United Methodist clergy and college president, and a resident of Lake Junaluska, gathered other retired pastors and residents of the county to talk about the possibilities. The Rev. Garland Young, a Haywood County resident and former pastor of First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, who is the current chair of the Peace Committee, shared this history in the opening session on Thursday night. He recognized Spears, who was in the audience, still attending at age 101.

A glance over the list of committee members and design team for the event reveals that a substantial number are residents of Haywood County, many are retired and active United Methodist clergy who live in Lake Junaluska and Waynesville, and others are laypersons from our area churches.

The theme for this year’s event was “Faith, Health & Peace: Seeking the Basic Right to Good Health for All God’s Children.” Speakers, panel discussions and workshops centered on the themes of health and wholeness and how local faith communities can contribute to the health of the entire planet.

Two of the presenters at the conference have significant ties to Haywood County: Sheriff Greg Christopher and Dr. Henry Perry.

Christopher offered a workshop on Friday that detailed some of the things that have happened in our county in the past 13 months since he became sheriff.  The title of the workshop was “A Community’s Efforts to Help Persons In and Out of Prison Find Wholeness and Health.”  In about 90 minutes, Christopher outlined policy changes and staff additions that have led from what he would call “The Look of Hopelessness” to a vastly improved situation.  The sheriff and his staff have focused on the issues of drugs and alcoholism of county inmates, improving access to jail ministry and providing support to inmates to alleviate recidivism.

In the past year, the number of drugs seized has increased steadily, and inmates are getting more access to rehabilitation programs.  Recidivism has dropped to about 50 percent from 90 percent. And new partnerships and programs are developing that will provide support systems for a whole range of issues including shelter for the homeless, meals for the hungry and access to jobs and educational programs.

Perry led the plenary session and afternoon workshops on both Friday and Saturday. Perry was on the surgical staff of Haywood County Hospital from 1984-1995, while leading Andean Rural Health that was headquartered at Lake Junaluska until 1999.

Many of our local churches remember the work of Andean Rural Health, and numerous persons traveled to Bolivia with Perry and his associates to work with mission and medical teams.

Perry is now at Johns Hopkins University as a senior associate of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He shared his life-long desire to improve the health of children and mothers across the globe.

“We have the financial and human resources across the world to make a monumental impact on child health and mortality if we have the will,” said Perry.

The next Peace Conference is scheduled for March 19-22, 2015, at Lake Junaluska with the theme “Longing for Peace — Exploring the Heart of God.”

Michael Rich lives in Waynesville and is the web and communications manager for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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