Let My People Stay

I’m deeply grateful to our Session for supporting the faith leaders press conference that was held at Guilford Park Thursday, February 8 and to the many congregation members who came. The conference was in support of a clean Dream Act or similar legislation to protect the young people who were brought as children to this country without documentation.

Our elected officials were called on by name to do the right thing, the moral thing. There were no personal attacks and no partisanship. The event was political in the sense that elected leaders were called on because only our elected leaders can resolve this moral issue that touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people raised and educated among us.

If you were there or saw the conference on the news, I hope you agree that this was a deeply faithful event. The word of God was proclaimed in our sanctuary, proclaimed emphatically, by these faith leaders. I was moved by what the Spirit did through them. They were given no scripts, no assigned messages other than the general message of support for a Dream Act and support for keeping families together. And yet from the opening prayer by Jeff Paschal through the resounding closing call “Let My People Stay” by Rabbi Andy Koren, each affirmed with passion and clarity our scriptural imperative to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger.

Several stories of particular DACA recipients were shared. As David Fraccaro, Executive Director of FaithAction, often says, if we can take off our political hats and put on our faith hats, we can hear with greater clarity and come to consensus on the moral message: When people are suffering in fear, families are facing brutal abrupt estrangement, and young people are longing to make their place in the only world they have ever known, our faith compels us to speak out for them. That is what occurred on Thursday in our sanctuary.

We left on a hopeful, upbeat note with the impromptu simple words of “This Little Light of Mine” sung by the gathered crowd of over 100 people, accompanied by Rabbi Fred Guttman at the piano. May God bless these young Dreamers for their courage and these religious leaders for their faithful witness.

– Melanie Rodenbough

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Suffer the Little Children

The title above is a quote from Jesus, from the King James Version of the Bible. The full quote reads “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Jesus is asking his followers to let the children engage with him rather than shielding him from them. Later translations use the word “Let” instead of “Suffer,” but the double meaning in the word “suffer” catches our attention as we think about children living in poverty. They suffer. And too often we Christians shield ourselves from them and their suffering.

Our study of childhood poverty through the book Our Kids has taught us that poor children are increasingly out of sight and therefore out of mind for those of us in the middle and upper classes in America. We live in separate neighborhoods, attend different churches and schools, and have increasingly fewer community interactions. Studies and our own experience teach us that when we don’t know poor people, we are more likely to ostracize, stigmatize and create myths about them that further shield us from their plight.

Speaking to a couple myths in her presentation on the impact of poverty on health care for poor children, pediatrician and life-long member Anna Rodenbough said: “Parents living in poverty are not worse parents. There is nothing involving money that makes you love your kid more or less. These parents are doing much more in terms of trying to budget and trying to organize transportation, school, and after school – but they have a paucity of resources. Many parents go without food so their kids will have food. It’s pretty shocking that that exists in the U.S. today – but it does.”

GPPC member Trent Walton, a middle school principal, opened our minds to the challenges poor children face in addition to lack of material resources, challenges that often cause us to stigmatize rather than empathize with them:

“Children are born with six hardwired emotional responses: sadness, joy, disgust, anger, surprise, and fear. All other emotional responses must be taught, including humility, forgiveness, empathy, optimism, compassion, sympathy, patience, shame, cooperation, and gratitude. When compared to children from well-off families, children living in poverty are more likely to not have access to an adult with the time and/or ability to teach them these critical emotional responses.” From Teaching with Poverty in Mind, by Eric Jensen. 

And our own Sally Beck, who shared her significant experience working with poor children through the Guardian ad Litem program, challenged us to see poor children the way Jesus saw them, not ostracize and shame them and their parents as a financial burden on those of us with resources : “If we only evaluate things through the lens of fiscal responsibility, we miss what chronic anxiety, trauma and scarcity do to people.” – Judy Wu Dominick

We might think about the many ways we “other” the poor, as discussed in this article we shared in the Our Kids study.

Our goal in this series has been to expand our knowledge, and with that knowledge, to create the empathy that allows us to see poor children through Christ’s eyes. In the words of our Sunday School curriculum, “Children, Poverty and the Bible”:

“The prevailing hope is not that we would know more or even do more as a result of this study; but that we would be transformed into people and communities who demonstrate the will of God in issues related to children and poverty.” 

We who serve on the Justice and Peacemaking and Enrichment committees are grateful that so many of you chose to engage with us, to read and study and listen and learn and discuss. Whether or not you’ve had a chance to join us so far, we hope you will come to hear Gene Nichol this weekend, and hear him with an open mind and heart.

Let us seek to be transformed by God’s word into people who suffer — and suffer with —  the little children.

-Melanie Rodenbough, For the Justice and Peacemaking and Enrichment Committees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Hat?

My friend David Fraccaro from FaithAction International House likes to ask when he’s talking to Christian folk about immigration, “Take off your political hat and put on your faith hat.” When we do that, we find we have more in common than we might think.

That’s what we’re asking our congregation and community to do on October 21 and 22 when Gene Nichol speaks to us about childhood poverty. Let’s take David’s approach — put aside our political hats and put on our faith hats.

How can our faith inform our thinking about children in poverty? “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). This is not an isolated verse, but a central theme of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Can we allow the Bible to speak to us about poverty?
  • Can we allow Jesus Christ’s words and actions toward the poor to move our hearts and inform our thinking?
  • Can we think about poor children as children for whom we share responsibility?
  • Can we hear Gene Nichol’s words through the filter of God’s justice rather than the filter of our partisan righteousness?

Will you come? Which hat will you bring?

-Melanie Rodenbough, for the Ruth Lamb Enrichment Subcommittee

Why Should We Learn More About Childhood Poverty?

Have you heard that our church is studying childhood poverty this fall?

Many of us are blessed with abundance or at least with enough to enjoy what we consider a decent, middle-class lifestyle, and share a little extra with our poor neighbors through Greensboro Urban Ministry, mission trips and other charities. So why is a nice church like ours talking so much about childhood poverty?

A better question might be, “Am I taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more?”

Our Session established goals for the work of the church this year. One of those was to increase our efforts in advocacy and education on issues of justice and peacemaking. Another was to consider how Guilford Park might become a 21st Century church, a “thought leader” in our community. The Childhood Poverty study addresses both goals.

But the underlying reason for our study is that as we worked on justice and peacemaking issues, we realized how much poverty impacts those who are marginalized. Some folks might consider that more of a political issue, not a faith concern for the church. But it turns out that the Bible, and in particular the prophets and Jesus, have a lot to say about God’s care for the poor and marginalized and God’s passion to seek justice for them. And it’s pretty clear that God expects us to have that passion, too.

We start from a place of confessing: That we don’t know as much as we think. That we make a lot of assumptions. That we believe and recite a lot of myths. That we would rather not think about poor children too much. That we’re not sure they’re really poor.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate in any of the classes, there are still two more each of the Monday evening book study and the 10:00 a.m. Sunday School class. We would welcome you!

But even if you can’t make any of those, we really, REALLY hope you will join us for the Ruth Lamb Enrichment Series weekend, October 21 and 22.

Who was Ruth Lamb? A long-time member and supporter of GPPC. She and her husband Jack established a fund to support enriching events for the church long after they were gone. And the fund has done just that: We’ve heard great speakers, participated in marriage enrichment and music programs, and expanded our understanding of youth ministry and liturgical arts, to name a few.

This year for only the second time in the fund’s 20+ year history, we have a speaker on a social justice issue, childhood poverty. He is Gene Nichol, professor and former Dean of the law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Gene is also director of the N.C. Poverty Research Fund. Gene has studied poverty in North Carolina over many years and has a challenging message: It will take both private charity and public policy changes to lift our children out of poverty.

childrens-fund-580x338

Gene’s is a faith-driven advocacy. He has a story about how he came up out of the Texas football culture where he was a top college recruit and in the process realized how the poor, including his family, were looked down upon. His personal story and his Catholic background have motivated Gene to care passionately about “the least of these.”

So we hope you’ll come hear Gene, come and join our church family, come and welcome our community for this excellent speaker. All the details are available at the church website, on the church Facebook page, and in the brochures and posters at the church. Be sure to make a reservation and prepay for the dinner Saturday the 21st at 6:00 p.m. Everything else is free and requires no reservation.

Why should we learn more about childhood poverty? Because children in poverty are God’s children, and they are our children, too.

-Melanie Rodenbough, for the Justice and Peacemaking Committee

 

 

 

 

What did you do this summer?

The wisdom writer know as Ecclesiastes writes, “And a time for every matter under heaven.”  

Worshiping from the pews this summer, we were treated to a great sermon series titled “Music Lessons.”  In additionspecial music summer 2017 to the spoken word describing the interplay of melody, harmony, form and rhythm in our lives, a wide range of special music enhanced the spirituality of the services. While the congregation found a steady rhythm in worship, the rest of church life took its own sabbath rest time with a break from committees, Sunday school, choir and other group meetings.

But that’s just the surface view.

Action was definitely happening–it was simply elsewhere or at other times.  The middle school youth went on a spiritual retreat to Massanetta Springs and are now preparing for a mission trip to Washington, DC.  The high school youth have had their mission and spiritual retreats as well.  Not to be left out, the younger crowd from the church and community filled our halls with record numbers for Vacation Bible School.  At the same time, a hearty band of members launched an international mission to Nicaragua.  Phew!  That’s a lot of activity.

You see, June and July were just low points for committee meetings.  That is what struck me when committee meetings drew me to the church two nights in a row.  These two meetings are in preparation for upcoming events, much like the various mission and retreat activities of the summer.  The rhythm of planning the events and producing the events are now the rhythm of the late summer and fall.

The key piece of that planning rhythm is to keep the melody going in harmony with all the other melodies of other committees.  There is time for such “matters under heaven,” but each have their own cadence.  Indeed, this part of the church season seems to be the “time to build up.”

Stay tuned.

Advocacy: A Report from the Front

This past weekend Peter McKinnon and I attended the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. We journeyed there on behalf of our colleagues on the Justice and Peacemaking Committee, but also on behalf of all of you, the people of Guilford Park Presbyterian Church. Our hope is that we can put to use what we learned and experienced in our own ministry of justice and peacemaking right here on Fernwood Drive.

In case you don’t know, as I did not, what this 15-year old conference is all about, here’s a brief summary from the website. This particular 2017 gathering celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Riverside Church in New York, one year before his assassination. You can listen to it here.

In our annual National Gathering, Ecumenical Advocacy Days focused on the theme Confronting Chaos, Forging Community from April 21-24, 2017. We grappled with the intersectionality of racism, materialism, and militarism, and learned more about the impact they have around the world, in our communities, and in our own lives. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, and networking with other Christians, we faced the current manifestations of these ‘triplets’ and together advocated for change in public policy that better reflects the Beloved Community about which Dr. King spoke. After a weekend filled with education and training and a prayer vigil at the Pentagon, the event culminated with a Lobby Day on Monday, April 24, 2017, where participants converged on Capitol Hill to meet with their Members of Congress and Senators. Also on Lobby Day, a group of dozens of Christian clergy and lay leaders and advocates participated in a prayerful witness and civil disobedience in a Senate office building, rejecting the budget proposal of President Trump which calls for reduction in human needs spending at home and abroad to pay for sharp and unnecessary increases in Pentagon spending.”

Wow. That sounds like a lot to me now – no wonder I’m still tired! And no, Peter and I did not get arrested for civil disobedience. But we participated in all the rest, and it was an astonishing experience. 900 or so Christians, committed to and exploring the meaning of justice and peace in our world, spellbinding speakers including the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, and a great many enthusiastic and well-informed people leading various workshops, including a wonderful breakfast meeting exploring the challenges experienced by our LGBTQ neighbors. A lovely young Muslim woman shared with us the heartbreaking simplicity of her life as a gay woman: “I am not allowed to exist.”

Some of what we heard made us uncomfortable, but we were there partly to be made uncomfortable. Some of what we heard affirmed our fledgling Justice and Peacemaking ministry at GPPC that has been supported by so many of you. Much of what we heard challenged us to dig deeper into the meaning of justice in our nation and our world, deeper into empathy with those who suffer from injustice, discrimination and marginalization, and deeper into the power and challenge of being an advocate. And we connected with people from across the USA, from many different faith communities, who are facing the same challenges.

Snatches from my notes tell some of the story: “The sin of just doing our jobs;” “Out of love & faith the women (at the tomb) show up – so find your inner woman;” “Be a midwife of hope;” “Faith is porous – there’s room for stuff to get out and stuff to get in, it’s subject to intrusion and perversion;” “When we promote just wars & holy wars and claim God is on our side, we become tools for the 3 evils of racism, materialism and militarism;” “One can name Jesus Savior and Lord and promote someone who displays by actions he or she does not know our Savior and Lord;” “We just want to love people and get along, not get involved with politics;” “‘Us’ and ‘Them’ eats away at the soul, making some people expendable;” “We adjust to empire and don’t critique it;” and my favorite (from Dr. Nelson): “If your church isn’t promoting social justice, you need to find a new church.”

It was powerful to stand on the lawn of the Pentagon with a couple hundred others singing and praying for peace, especially after having heard stories from around the world of how our nation often takes actions that seem to promote war and not peace. It was equally powerful for me to witness Peter pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair back to the hotel, one of God’s mighty warriors for peace even in his age and infirmity. He was grateful for the help and clearly thrilled to be there! Earlier in the day, one very poignant story came from a North Korean guest speaker, begging that we as Christians advocate that our government help promote a peace process and not escalate war. I thought of that man and the everyday citizens on whose behalf he spoke, and prayed that our nation will exercise wisdom and restraint in the current climate. His face will stay with me as our leaders debate our course.

IMG_4636 (1)

 

And on our last day, Peter and I were happy to head to the Senate office buildings to sit down with the rest of the NC “delegation” and talk with staffers of Senators Burr and Tillis about the budget. We asked that we not increase military spending at the expense of spending on people, health care, infrastructure, education and the environment. We asked that the proven programs that have fed people here and around the world not be cut, but expanded. We asked that black and brown people – African Americans who have been imprisoned in such devastating number, Muslims and others who seek refuge from terror and war, immigrants who seek a better life and have contributed to our communities – that these people be protected and respected as God’s children. Here’s a picture of the two of us outside Senator Burr’s office: 18010188_1904657459814279_7499214834275391116_n (1)

Let me say how grateful I am for our congregation that has also been challenged and stretched by this new ministry. Many of you like me grew up not understanding what on earth such “political” matters have to do with faith, and together we are coming to understand that working for justice and peace in the world is actually central to our Christian call. Let me also quote Dr. Nelson again: “There is no conflict between justice and spirituality. A church can do both.” I thank God as always for all the good ministry in which we are engaged at GPPC. And I hope more of us will get the chance to attend the Ecumenical Advocacy Days gathering, and bring back their energy, passion and ideas, as together we strive to be people who seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

–Melanie Rodenbough

Stand Up and Step Out!

“Stand Up and Step Out!”

That’s the title of the church’s theme for 2017. The words reflect the primary purposes of two of our session committees—Justice and Peacemaking (“Stand Up” to advocate for the poor and marginalized and for peace) and Mission (“Step Out” in service to those in need). We want to challenge more members of the congregation to become involved in our work, in addition to the good ministry you do within our congregation.

This past week has been a busy one for both ministries.

Last Sunday we celebrated our partnership with Bread for the World, reminding us of the need to continually pray and advocate for the hungry and malnourished.

On Tuesday night the church hosted a gathering of approximately 125 people, both from GPPC and from the greater community, to hear a challenging presentation on systemic racism in our culture. From presenter Bay Love we learned that studies have confirmed the existence of race as the most important factor in significantly poorer outcomes for blacks than white across all our systems—education, health care, criminal justice, social services, and financial services.

14940079_10209791521818850_1454320505132323251_o

Part of the crowd at GPPC to learn about systemic racism.

This conversation comes at the end of a two-month Sunday School class on race led by the JP Committee, and just prior to the study of Jim Wallis’ book on racism, titled American’s Original Sin. We hope to help bring to the congregation and community a heightened awareness of the role race plays in our culture, as well as thoughtful responses for us as a Christian congregation to the injustices caused by the sin of racism.

Wednesday evening three of our members participated in the Air Horn Orchestra outside the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh, to bring attention to the injustice that HB2 has brought to the LGBTQ community in North Carolina.

Meanwhile on Wednesday morning, a team of eight hardy souls left on the annual mission trip to Washington DC, where they will work in various ministries related to poverty and homelessness. They will represent us well as they extend the love of God and the hand of fellowship to those in need, helping provide direct services through various ministries there. 

14963166_1278814552162750_7117021532056572144_n

The eight members of the GPPC mission team ready to board the bus.

This extended trip caps off a busy season of the Mission Committee’s regular ministries to feed the hungry through GUM, Interactive Resource Center, A Simple Gesture and Hot Dish and Hope, as well as sponsoring the annual Blood Drive, the current Habitat for Humanity build, and the CROP Walk.

Many of these ministries will continue through Advent and into the new year.

And coming in July 2017, an international mission trip!  The Mission Committee held an informational meeting on October 18, and looks forward to serving our international community on the trip.  More information to come for members of the congregation interested in joining.

Together Justice and Peacemaking and Mission represent a good part of our congregation’s effort to share the love of Christ with the world outside our church walls. They do not compete, but complement each other. As Frank Dew so beautifully illustrated in his recent sermon, when the sink is overflowing with water we need to both mop up the immediate problem of the water on the floor (Mission) and turn off the water to address the long-term source of the problem (Justice and Peacemaking).

Stay tuned as we challenge you in 2017 to Stand Up and Step Out!

–Melanie Rodenbough (JP Committee) and Peter Isakoff (Mission Committee)

Why Talk About Race?

There’s a real term called “race fatigue.” It refers to the stress African American students feel as they navigate predominantly white institutions of higher learning.

But many white people suffer from a different kind of “race fatigue” – a weariness with hearing about race and racism. We wonder why we are still talking about racial inequity fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement. Weren’t these issues resolved with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts? Isn’t the African American community responsible now for its own problems?

And many of us also might wonder, What does this have to do with the church? Why do we have to hear about this from the pulpit, in classes, in the newsletter, and now now here in the church blog, of all places? Aren’t these political and economic issues, rather than faith concerns?

We know the church is called to speak out against injustice. The Bible is clear about God’s call for us to seek justice for the poor, the marginalized, and the stranger. We hear this in the ringing call of the prophet Micah “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” Knowing we are called to do Christ’s work in the world, we hear that call also in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”

And yet the white church has often failed to acknowledge the sin of racism or advocate for justice for black people. We failed throughout American history—first in the time of slavery, when the church bell often also served as the slave auction bell, up to and through much of the Civil Rights Movement. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed members of the white clergy:

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

img_3952

We are confronted in the news with incidents that reflect ongoing racial tensions, racial violence, and racial injustices, both around the country and here in our own community. In all of our institutional systems – education, health care, social services, criminal justice, etc. – outcomes for blacks are worse than for whites. Study after study indicates race is the determining factor for those poor outcomes.

We struggle with how to respond as Christians to these realities.

The Justice and Peacemaking Committee has spent a year learning and planning to engage our congregation in some of the issues around racial equity and justice. We hope many of you will make the decision to step out of your comfort zone, as we have tried to do, to learn more. Come and think, grow, and learn with us. Bring your concerns and opinions and insights. Let’s see together where God might be calling us to speak and act for justice. Opportunities include:

  • A Sunday School series (4 weeks, Sept. 11 – Oct. 2), led by Tim and Laura Peck and Keith Harrington, based upon video lessons developed by Salem Presbytery’s Task Force on Peace and Justice. Drop in on any class.
  • A study of evangelical leader Jim Wallis’s book, America’s Original Sin: Race, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America (Monday evenings, Nov. 7 – Dec. 5). This book speaks directly to us as Christians.
  • A series of discussions hosted by GPPC and other churches titled “Doing Our Work,” specifically for white people who want to better understand racism, put on by the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance, the first Tuesday of each month beginning in October. Find the schedule on the JP bulletin board. GPPC will host the meeting on Tuesday, November 1st.

Let it not be said of us that we chose to “remain silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Melanie Rodenbough

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Picture this scene:

  • The faith community gathers in their worship space on a summer evening. Groups mill about, inside and out.
  • Tow-headed children are underfoot, gleefully chasing and chattering.
  • The boys have found a ball somewhere and seamlessly formed themselves into teams that run and run and run.
  • Pretty young teenage girls flit by in tight groups, shy smiles masking what they are thinking.
  • Parents whisk into the parking lot, late, looking for a parking place so they can get inside before the service starts.
  • There is food. Lots of food, its delicious smells permeating the air.
  • “Who made that dessert? What’s the recipe?”
  • People settle around tables into conversation and eating, laughter filling the air.
  • Pastors gravitate toward one another to talk shop – or not.
  • Only the call to prayer shushes the conversation.
  • And soon it will be over, this evening of fellowship and worship among the faithful people of God.

These words describe many evenings I’ve spent at Guilford Park over the last three decades. But they also describe the worshipping community nearly 30 of us visited on Monday evening at the Islamic Center of Greensboro, as the honored guests of our Muslim friends. We were there to share and witness Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast of Ramadan.

For some this was nothing new, having visited before. Many of us, however, confessed to some anxiety over strange customs, dress, and language. And indeed most of the people didn’t look or dress quite like us. They surely didn’t pray like us. Their worship and eating space was wide and open, the floor carpeted with the beautifully ornate continuous pattern that designates individual prayer spaces. We didn’t really know what was going to happen next, how it would sound or what it would mean.

We noticed differences in the feel of the space, in the separation of women and men, in the language that not even all those praying fully understood. Welcomed as honored guests, we sat apart from most of the Muslim community at dinner, invited to ask questions, and were observers only of the prayers. Should we pray? Should we eat while they prayed? Should we take pictures of people praying? We were definitely out of our comfort zone!

And yet … And yet.

GPPC Mosque visit

GPPC visiting with Muslim friends at the Islamic Center of Greensboro

Their faith and commitment were evident. And our presence in that space, among those friends, was a witness to our own faith in the love of God we proclaim in Jesus. At a time when these peaceful, worshipping neighbors are the subject of suspicion and blame for the actions of a few extremists, we went to eat with them, to visit with them. They thanked us profusely. Yes, THEY – who fed and welcomed us – thanked US repeatedly for coming to them, for being there. Could the upside-down message of Jesus be any better illustrated that that?

Jo brought them the gift of a prayer shawl on our behalf, which Jeff presented (Jo’s not in the picture above because she took it.) When I mentioned to one of our new friends that the shawl had been lovingly made and prayed over by our congregation, he smiled and told me that it would be hung in a place of honor, at the center of many more prayers.

Hopefully we all came away aware that what is common among us far outweighs the differences. We are all children of God, seeking to live in peace with our neighbors.

It was an extraordinary evening, leaving us with much to ponder.

Lobbying [“LOB-ee-ing”]

To lobby means, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “to solicit or try to influence the votes of members of a legislative body” or “to try to influence the actions of public officials, especially legislators” or “to urge or procure the passage of a bill by lobbying.”

Any way you look at it, Bo and I engaged in lobbying this week as representatives of GPPC, on behalf of Bread for the World.

20160607_172135

Part of the NC delegation, with a member of Senator Burr’s staff (in red, back row middle)

Following in the footsteps of our beloved former parish associate Bob Herron, we traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in Bread’s “Lobby Day,” along with over 300 other Bread members from across the United States. The day was jam-packed with worship, caucusing with others from North Carolina to plan our lobbying visits, and then trekking back and forth across the front of the U.S. Capitol building to get to the offices of our two NC Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, and local congressman Mark Walker.

During worship we heard a riveting and heart-breaking presentation by the author of The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – and the World, Roger Thurow. His research confirmed the lasting effects of pre-natal and early childhood malnutrition that our speaker Nancy Rhodes conveyed to us in worship on Mother’s Day. As he said more than once, the only reason that we have carried the “medieval” problem of hunger into the 21st century is a lack of political will to end it. Bread’s goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 is entirely within our reach.

Suffice it to say we were and still are amateur lobbyists. But we learned a lot and had good experiences at each office we visited. Thankfully the Bread staff had prepared materials, including the specific “asks” for Senate and House, and talking points to support them. You may recall from our letter-writing campaign that Bread’s emphasis this year was on maternal and child nutrition. We were there to ask for support for the Global Food Act and for an increase in the appropriation for domestic food programs that target children, including school breakfast and lunch, summer feeding programs, WIC, and others.

At only one visit did we talk with the elected official (Senator Tillis) – most of the time we were talking with staffers. Everyone was pleasant and reasonably well-informed on the issues, which lessened the anxiety of this very new experience. Thankfully we were talking about a subject that naturally inspires passion: The travesty of hunger in this country and around the world, particularly hungry children, and the need for our government to support and fund efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

Our part of the lobbying was to add our personal, community, and congregational experiences to the conversation to emphasize how important the issue of hunger is to us. Being a member of GPPC made the task easy! I introduced myself at each visit as representing a 450-member congregation of people who, though they span the political spectrum, all care about the issue of hunger. Bo and I spoke about our congregation’s active mission efforts to feed people, and our Bread letter-writing campaign of over 300 letters. And on the issue of appropriating funds for domestic feeding programs for children, I described my personal gratitude that as a school child I was able to receive a “free lunch” every school day. We prayed with the staffers at each office. 

We were especially fortunate to have the youngest lobbyist of the day in our NC group, from here in Greensboro no less! Read about delightful 6-year old Toren Rhyne here:

http://www.bread.org/blog/and-little-child-shall-lead-them

Sometimes folks worry that political lobbying could put the church at risk of losing our tax exempt status. There really isn’t much chance of that at the level we participate in lobbying. Only if we as a church engaged in “substantial lobbying activity” would this even be a question. “Substantial” in Internal Revenue parlance refers to both the time and resources we spend. We at GPPC are nowhere close to that standard with our occasional efforts to encourage the congregation to contact our elected representatives about legislation that promotes justice and peace, including our efforts to support Bread for the World. We can, and should, lobby more often for policies that promote justice and peace!

I did wonder at the end of our long day if we had done any good. At the closing reception, I had the opportunity to ask a Bread staff person that question. She made a pretty convincing case that YES, our efforts matter; YES, the representatives listen and pay attention to the letters, calls and visits; and YES, through our work on behalf of Bread for the World we make possible a more hopeful future for millions of hungry people in our own country and around the world. In our lobbying, we are doing the work of Christ. 

As Bread’s motto reminds us: “Have faith. End hunger.”