NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- For long-time peace activists, the name "Jim Forest" is synonymous with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In fact, his "peace biography" is much broader than that.
Forest will be the second speaker in the 32nd annual Peace Lecture Series, sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (KIPCOR) at Bethel College on Thursday, Nov. 11.
Perhaps first and foremost, Forest is a writer and a journalist. As a five-year-old in Red Bank, N.J., in 1946, he produced a handwritten family newspaper using an alphabet of his own design. He insists that it was "an excellent publication, whose only shortcoming was that no one could read it."
As a boy, Forest was often found hanging around the office of the weekly newspaper, and before long he was delivering The Red Bank Register, while starting his own mimeographed publication using an alphabet that others could read.
Forest’s engagement with Christianity began at about the same time. He was baptized at age 12 in an Episcopal parish in Shrewsbury, N.J. However, not until he was in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C., and working at the U.S. Weather Bureau, did he begin to see his life vocation in religious terms.
In 1960, Forest joined the Catholic Church. His religious life took another turn in 1988 when he and his wife, Nancy, were received into the Orthodox Church. He is now secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and edits its publication, In Communion.
In 1961, after obtaining an early discharge from the Navy on grounds of conscientious objection, Forest joined the Catholic Worker community in New York City, led by Dorothy Day, and also became managing editor of The Catholic Worker. Later he was a reporter for a daily newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, and worked for Religion News Service. Beginning in the mid-‘70s, he edited Fellowship, the magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Later, after moving to Europe, he was editor of Reconciliation International.
Even before his name became known in FOR circles for his writing and editing, Forest was responsible for FOR’s Vietnam program activities, in the late ‘60s. One aspect of this work was traveling with and assisting Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and poet.
Another influential factor in Forest’s life has been his friendship with Thomas Merton, who dedicated Faith and Violence to him. Merton’s letters to Forest have been published as part of The Hidden Ground of Love (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1985).
In 1969-70, Forest spent 13 months in prison for his involvement in the "Milwaukee Fourteen," a group of Catholic priests and lay people who burned draft records. After leaving prison, he was a member of the Emmaus Community in East Harlem, N.Y.
Forest became publications director for FOR in 1973. In 1977, he moved to Holland to head the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He served as IFOR’s General Secretary for 12 years.
In connection with work on two books about Russian religious life, Forest has traveled widely throughout the former USSR. Those experiences were a factor in his becoming an Orthodox Christian.
Forest is the author of more than 10 books. With Tom Cornell and Robert Ellsberg, he edited A Penny a Copy: Readings from The Catholic Worker. His books have been translated into Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Korean and Russian.
In 1989, Forest received the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University's Institute for International Peace Studies. He is on the advisory board for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
He is the father of six and grandfather of three, and since 1977 has lived in Alkmaar, Holland, northwest of Amsterdam.
Forest will present "Living Without Fear in the Post-9/11 World" at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11, in Krehbiel Auditorium on the Bethel College campus. He will also speak on "The Eastern Orthodox Christian Ethical Tradition" to Duane Friesen’s Christian Social Ethics class on Thursday morning from 9:30-10:45 a.m. in Room 121 of Krehbiel Science Center. Both events are free and open to the public.