Neighborhood Congregational Church celebrates a successful first-ever World Peace & Justice Weekend

Participants came from as near as across the street and as far as Oakland to experience World Peace & Justice Weekend on June 9 and 10 at Neighborhood Church. About 100 participants showed up for an array of talks, experiences, music; and $5,000 was raised to support humanitarian, educational, social justice causes. 

The ambitious two-day series of events combined expert panel talks on a wide range of topics including parenting, technology, ecology, recovery, peaceful resistance, and healthy aging, mixed with music, dance, a children’s workshop, chanting, meditation, an all-night sound bath and a showcase concert with three bands enlivening the acoustically-friendly church sanctuary. 

The event was part of the church’s 75th anniversary celebration and the brainchild of its pastor of one year, Rev Rodrick Echols, the youthful, tech-savvy, Brown University-educated church leader who has injected new verve into the flock he helms. 

With an energetic team of volunteers from the church, the event quickly took shape. 

Neighborhood Congregational second panel

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Sue Cross, associate director of UC Irvine Writing Center, Aditi Mayer, UCI student and founder/editor-in-chief of UCI’s InSight Magazine, Shakeel Syed, executive director of OCCORD, and LA Kids director Chris Boucher

 “It began with witnessing the astonishing events in Charlottesville, Virgnia last August and the planned subsequent rally here at Main Beach – our church felt the need to respond,” explained Echols. “We held a nonviolence training and walked down to the beach to stand as peaceful protesters. With so much interest in answering anger with equanimity, I wanted to sustain that momentum. I think it’s important right now to keep bringing people together with a positive message, to renew their hope and help them advance their ideals rooted in peace and justice. That’s a more inclusive, spiritual message, to be sure, but it is valid and badly needed in these acrimonious times.”

 “Our goal for World Peace & Justice Weekend was to offer a venue where folks could step away from the negative, take a breath, and seek to restore their natural compassion,” he added. “We did so by offering eight different seminars and panels where guests could gather new information and share ideas, or simply be touched by listening to uplifting music. The lyrics from a song by one of our bands, Emma’s Revolution, sums it up: hope changes everything.”

The $5,000 raised during World Peace & Justice Weekend will support humanitarian aid, education, and social justice programs locally and worldwide: Friendship Shelter, Laguna Food Pantry, Walking for Water, fire and disaster victims, LA Kids program, school supplies and tuition for children in Malawi and Nicaragua, refugees from Tibet and Syria, and Venezuelan citizens.

Neighborhood Congregational panel

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Saturday panel discussion “Faces of Active Wisdom” included Laura Kanter, director of policy, advocacy and youth programs for LGBT Center OC, moderator Rev. Rodrick Echols, Brooke Werleman, LBHS student leader of Walking for Water, and Pej Alaghamandan, business development director for Beginnings Treatment

Panel speakers included: Pejman “Pej” Alaghamandan of Beginnings Treatment, Laura Kanter of LGBT Center OC, Jackie Menter of the Jewish Collaborative OC/Multi-faith Alliance, John Fay of Laguna Beach Seniors, Inc., psychologist Dr. Michele McCormick, meditation and mindfulness teacher Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, Baha’i faith community member Suzy K. Elghanayan, Sue Cross of the UC Irvine Writing Center, Aditi Mayer, UC Irvine student and editor-in-chief of the university’s InSight Magazine, Shakeel Syed of immigration and economic justice organization OCCORD, Laguna Beach High School student Brooke Werleman, Susan Hough, director of Walking for Water, which builds wells in developing nations, Miguel Hernandez and Robert Cerince of social justice group Orange County Congregational Community Organization (OCCCO), parenting expert Rev. Dr. Terry LePage, Karen Lagrew, Instructional Technology Specialist at Orange Unified School District, and Barbara English, co-founder of OC Climate Action.

A lavish Tibetan lunch was served by Chef Lhakpa Tsering as guests moved from song, chanting, and movement workshops to meditative labyrinth walking to devotional kirtan singing. Others participated in an all-night sound bath of healing sounds of crystal bowls, gongs, and sacred instruments that started at 10 p.m. and ended at sunup on Sunday.

Neighborhood Congregational Moon Police

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Popular local band The Moon Police rocked the church sanctuary

“It was both exhilarating and calming,” said one sound bath participant. “Like nothing I have ever done. I would definitely do it again.”

Sunday’s concert was a crowd-pleaser as three bands performed to draw the event to a close: Sparky & The Ancient Mariner, The Moon Police, and Oakland-based Emma’s Revolution, called “fervent and heartfelt” by the New York Times.

Rev. Echols noted, “Plans are already under way for next year’s event. We have tapped into a thirst for religion-neutral, personally heartening activities like this one and our committee has many ideas to make it even better.”

Neighborhood Church is part of the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination. Its open and affirming congregation celebrates the uniqueness of each individual. At 10 a.m. each Sunday, it presents an eclectic service of worship and music designed to appeal to people from all walks of life. In addition to its commitment to the Christian faith, Neighborhood Church is open to learning and drawing from the richness of other faith traditions. 

NCC is located at 340 St. Ann’s Dr.

For more information, go to or call (949) 494-8061.