On Constructing a Conscientious Objectors Peace Cairn
Here in southern Manitoba, we have for some years been served by a group known as the Evangelical Fellowship. It consists of a group of persons, pastors and others, who set themselves the goal some years ago of trying to enhance the peacemaking emphasis in existing Mennonite and other churches in the region. They began to publish literature, including a regular newsletter, create videos, give talks, etc., to generate support for greater peacemaking action (not just talk) in their respective congregations. They also encouraged local communities to set up peace cairns in memory of the work done by conscientious objectors of various churches to promote their peace-keeping views and desire for alternative service opportunities in place of induction to render violent and destructive labour in military engagements all over the world.
The Evangelical Fellowship selected three communities, Winkler, Altona and Steinbach, all in southern and south-eastern Manitoba. They hoped these places would lead the cairn construction initiative by raising funds and erecting what they felt would permanently preserve the memory of the beliefs and service of these conscientious objectors. Winkler and Altona committees were the first to achieve this. Each held an unveiling public event to broadcast the commemoration. Sizable groups, a hundred or more persons, found their way to the unveilings. Steinbach took quite a while to mobilize. It did not seem to have the core of a committee or a local vision to make this happen, despite being the largest community of the three involved.
My wife and I lived in Steinbach. I was somewhat familiar with the work of the Evangelical Fellowship and supported its agenda and also had some connection with the Altona committee, where I once lived. I recalled distinctly the soldiers of WWII marching along the streets of the town on their home leave, with public endorsement from the local paper, favoring the war effort. Pacifism lay low in those days. Some veterans returned after the war to finish high school so I thought a working group might be recruited there to build a cairn in Steinbach. Not so. Three of us friends finally agreed to band together, begin the process, and hope that funds would come in once the project caught public attention. We decided that our local museum would be a suitable place for a cairn. The museum informed us that it might be confusing for donors if we proceeded as planned and competed with other projects for scarce funding. Finally, we had to look for ways to downsize our plans, without dropping the project altogether. After prolonged negotiations, our revised plan included getting the project done by 2016, in time to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Conscientious Objectors service program in Canada.
The unveiling ceremony took place on November 12 that year. Announcements brought more than a hundred would-be participants to the gathering. They read the carefully edited commemorative words on a bronze plaque mounted firmly on a large local boulder (geologically explained as likely left in the ground after a huge Ice Age glacier retreated thousands of years ago). The plaque briefly told the story of the emergence of peace teachings among sixteenth century Anabaptist-Mennonites, and recognized their contribution to positive thinking on upholding peace and rejecting war altogether. The biblical base for such thinking appeared clearly in the text as well.
All expenses were met by the time the project was completed. The initial plan which included a large peace memorial, perhaps a small centre on museum grounds, was not forgotten. Several committee members are continuing to develop this concept for construction a while down the road if circumstances permit.
We were thankful to God that a healthy, uniting spirit could prevail in the committee and the museum board.
God is good!
By: Lawrence Klippenstein