Bud Hayes with his dog Bogie at their Oak Park residence. Hayes has been a peace advocate since the Vietnam War. Photo by Jennifer Wolfe

On Oct. 12, 2001 the first Friday after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (Oct. 7) in response to 9/11, a peace vigil was held from 7 to 8 p.m. on the front steps of First United Church of Oak Park at the corner of Kenilworth and Lake. So far as those of us who have attended the vigil over the years know, with possibly just a few exceptions, someone has been there, at some point in the 7-8 p.m. Friday night time frame ever since — a span of 13 years. 

It’s been quite a run. When it began, I don’t think anyone ever imagined it would go on so long. The focus was altogether on making some kind of immediate witness. We feared Iraq would be next and it was.

Things moved very quickly after the invasion. On Oct. 10, Amy Pappageorge went to the church council and proposed weekly vigils to be held on the front steps of the church. Some council members were concerned about the vigil being used to make political statements, but they also recognized that witnessing for peace was consistent with longstanding Christian traditions. A motion authorizing the vigil was passed. The first vigil was held two days later.

I attended my first vigil on April 26, 2002 and was immediately impressed with what I had missed. While there was a lot of anger in those days, the prevailing mood, I thought, was one of exhilaration. Amy’s charisma inspired us, but there were many voices wanting to be heard. There was a lot of singing. People read poetry, prayers and statements of one sort or another. For many years, until he moved out of the area, Walt Ziegenhals, a retired United Church of Christ pastor with a lifelong commitment to opposing war prepared scholarly reflections on a weekly basis. People brought signs in support of peace. 

Attendance varied, sometimes just a few, often a dozen or more, occasionally a larger group when there were special programs. There was a lot of interaction with people in cars when stopped at the light and pedestrians walking by. The great majority of them were positive — a few, hostile. People often stopped to talk with us, curious about what we were there for and wanting to express their own opinions. Many expressed appreciation that we were there. I have never made a sustained witness from the street before. I have no natural affinity for this. I have done it because I think it needs to be done. It has been richly rewarding. 

The time has come for the Friday Night Vigil to end, but I hope that the spirit of the vigil will continue in all of us who took part in the experience. The First United Church Council, at its September meeting, reaffirmed its denominational (Presbyterian Church USA and United Church of Christ) commitments to peacemaking. It also resolved to incorporate these affirmations into the work of relevant committees in the church. 

It also pledged to hold two lay-led vigils a year, after the manner of the ones held during the 13-year span, an estimated 676 in all. 

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