Gene LeFebvre Is 2016 Recipient of Anne Barstow and Tom Driver Award for Excellence in Nonviolent Direct Action in Retirement
The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is pleased to announce that the Reverend Gene LeFebvre is the 2016 recipient of the Anne Barstow and Tom Driver Award for Excellence in Nonviolent Direct Action in Retirement. A dinner and program will be held in celebration of Gene on October 9 at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are available here and donations can be made here.
This award was created in 2014 by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in order to specifically honor those who have taking significant risks in their retirement for the cause of nonviolent peacemaking. It is our desire to honor these leaders of our movement and to honor them in their local hometown or location where their primary peacemaking work took place. In our inaugural year, the award was named the Anne Barstow and Tom Driver to commemorate two of our key leaders in nonviolent peacemaking and the ceremony of dedication was held near New York City which was their primary place of peacemaking activities for decades.
This year we are pleased to bring the award to Tucson as we honor Gene LeFebvre. It is our goal to lift up leaders around the country with each passing year and to have a movable feast of awards and celebrations, while simultaneously building support for the important work of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship We hope that you’ll join us in Tucson on October 9 to celebrate Gene as the School of the Americas Watch border vigil in Nogales and Tucson concludes!
Rev. Eugene “Gene” LeFebvre grew up in Phoenix and has lived in Arizona for most of his life. He went to San Francisco Theological Seminary, was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and has served in 5 Presbyterian Churches and 2 United Church of Christ congregations, all but one of them in Arizona.
In the 1960s Gene served a Native American congregation in Phoenix. During that time he was involved in the Civil Rights movement and through that work met Rev. John Fife, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. It was during this time that Gene had the opportunity to ride along with Phoenix police officers and learned that police officers are, rightly or wrongly, often scared when they arrive at a situation. Gene took this learning and applied it to his nonviolent activism and efforts to reform policing practices in public housing projects.
Gene also cites experiences of learning from Cesar Chavez as having significant impact on how he viewed nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. Gene was part of a group that hid Chavez and his family in a cabin just outside of Tucson that is owned by St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church. At the time of meeting Chavez, Gene remembers that he already thought of civil disobedience as a superior moral choice. However, after meeting and spending time with Chavez, Gene came to understand civil disobedience as also “a very tough, very down-to-earth technique and strategy that works in the real world. It’s not used just because we want to be nice; it’s used because it’s effective.”
In the 1980s, Gene helped found the Sanctuary Movement with John Fife and others. As a part of this movement, they embraced and articulated the tenants of what they called “civil initiative,” grounded in nonviolence. They sought to hold the US government accountable for upholding the laws protecting Central Americans fleeing to the US to escape political violence. The Sanctuary Movement lasted until 1990, but about a decade later the border of Arizona and Mexico saw an upsurge of death in the desert as US enforcement strategies forced economic migrants into the desert.
In 2004, Gene was part of a coalition of grassroots organizations that founded No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes to respond to the humanitarian crisis on the border of people dying as they attempt to migrate from Latin America to the United States. No More Deaths began and continues to be a group committed to nonviolence with the slogan that “humanitarian aid is never a crime!” Their work includes desert aid, abuse documentation, post-deportation aid, property recovery, and working with other local Tucson groups and volunteers to accompany people through immigration proceedings. A $1,000 donation will be made to support the ongoing work of No More Deaths in honor of Gene as a part of this celebration.
Gene now lives in Phoenix with his wife, Sue, who has herself been an active part of the No More Deaths work. He regularly speaks out against the increasing militarization of the US and Mexico border and continues to be transformed by the stories and lives of the migrants he meets, letting the stories of the victims of US policy guide his work.
The keynote speaker at the dinner will be Rick Ufford-Chase, activist, friend, and mentee of Gene. Rick met Gene while he was living in Tucson, Arizona and working in a wide variety of human rights efforts including BorderLinks, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about the impact of border and immigration policies and connect divided communities through experiential education in order to inspire action for social transformation.
In 2004 Rick was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in 2006 he became the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, where he remained on staff until 2015. Under Rick’s leadership, PPF began the Colombia Accompaniment Program, the Peace Communities initiative, took 3 delegations to Palestine (one of which Gene participated in) and Israel and endorsed the Palestinian call for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), and was a central part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq against the Iraq War.
Rick remained in Tucson until 2008, when he and his wife, Kitty, accepted a call to become co-directors of the Stony Point Center in Stony Point, NY. Together, Rick and Kitty founded the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith intentional community committed to the practice of hospitality and social and eco-justice. Hundreds of people of faith, activists, and others seeking retreat pass through Stony Point Center each year for retreats, conferences, and trainings.
Most recently, Rick wrote a book with contributions from many activists and faith leaders called Faithful Resistance: Gospel Visions for the Church in a Time of Empire. This book opens with reflections from Rick and Rev. Alison Harrington on the role of the Sanctuary Movement in the Church and lifts up examples of how Gospel work is being done in the Church today as it challenges us all to go deeper in our commitments to nonviolent resistance to Empire in its many forms.
Rick and Gene have both lived their lives thus far committed to social justice and transformation, being constantly converted to their neighbors. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is honored and overjoyed to celebrate and highlight the work of Rev. Gene LeFebvre and give thanks for his lifelong commitment to nonviolence, civil disobedience, and civil initiative to bring about social change.
We hope that you’ll join the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship as we celebrate and honor Gene and his life’s work of working for justice for migrants in Arizona. If you cannot join in person, we hope you’ll consider giving a donation in his honor here. Tickets are available for purchase online.