Zehr Receives Thanks and Gives It, Restoratively

Howard Zehr

HARRISONBURG – Eastern Mennonite University professor Howard Zehr spent his Thanksgiving holiday this year receiving the thanks of German and Swiss groups for his work as a pioneer and propagator of restorative justice around the world. He also did “giving” as a speaker and workshop leader on the same topic.

On the day that the United States celebrated Thanksgiving 2010, Zehr received the Michael Stattler Prize from the German Mennonite Peace Committee in Rottenburg am Neckar, a town in southwestern Germany.

Dr. Zehr was chosen, said the peace committee, for “his work for nonviolent conflict transformation; his innovative contribution to the development of the concept of restorative justice as an alternative to conventional justice practice; his patient efforts to bring together victim and offender within the wider social service context; [and] his world-wide role as messenger of restorative justice.”

Zehr’s visit to Germany and Switzerland corresponded with the publication of the German-language edition of his bestselling “Little Book of Restorative Justice” (Good Books, 2002). He is professor of restorative justice in EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

While in Europe for a week, Zehr presented his ideas through a public lecture and a class taught on restorative justice in Hamburg, Germany; a seminar led for ComPax, a conflict transformation program under Mennonite auspices in Bienenberg, Switzerland; and a keynote speech given to a Quaker-Mennonite conference in Thomashof in the Baden-Württemberg area of Germany.

In Hannover, Germany, Zehr met with the staff of WAAGE Hannover, a non-profit organization that has operated a victim-offender mediation program for over two decades. Its founder, Thomas Trenczek, established this program after visiting in 1987 the victim-offender reconciliation program in Elkhart, Ind., a program Zehr helped launch in 1979. Trenczek was also instrumental in getting a new law in Germany that authorizes victim-offender mediation nationally.

In Bammental, Germany, Zehr attended a Mennonite-Lutheran reconciliation ceremony. (The German-Swiss Lutheran church of the 1500s was responsible for the execution of Michael Sattler and many other Anabaptists.)

One of the Bienenberg participants wrote in a post-seminar evaluation that he found the ComPax training with Zehr to be “visionary, enduring and hopeful, brilliant and incisive…as if someone had placed a diamond in my rucksack.”

Zehr says that at age 66, he finds he must turn down many more speaking invitations than he can accept, finding travel to be very depleting. “I welcome being replaced by younger people in this field,” he said the day after he returned from his trip. “And, fortunately, such people are around, including some of my former students who are doing wonderful things.”

The Michael Sattler Prize came with a gift of 2,000 Euros (about $2,700 US dollars) to EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The prize is named for an early Anabaptist whose religious beliefs caused him to be tortured and burned at the stake in 1527 in Rottenburg. Michael’s wife, Margaretha, was executed by drowning. Their deaths are marked by an engraved stone in Rottenburg, dedicated in 1957 by the Sixth Mennonite World Conference.

The Sattler Prize has been awarded three times since 2005 to persons or organizations that have made a significant contribution toward one or more of these causes: non-violent Christian witness, reconciliation among divided parties, inter-religious dialogue, and encouraging communities of committed disciples of Christ.

The other recipients of the Sattler Prize have been Christian Peacemaker Teams (2006), which offers organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict, and the Nassar Family Farm/Tent of Nations Project (2007), which models peaceful co-existence with its neighbors through teaching courses and providing workshops and conferences for women and youth in the area of Bethlehem.

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This post was submitted by Jim Bishop.

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