Tag Archives: advocacy

Sowing a Nonviolent Country

SJN LogoOn Saturday, September 26, 2015 hundreds of people gathered at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, Kentucky. Sponsored by the Sowers of Justice Network, a coalition of churches and individuals working for social justice through nonviolent action, this day (and organization) is a model that many of our communities can learn from.

The purpose of the conference was to invite nonviolence as a way of life, to and with those most affected by gun violence, and to mobilize citizens of the community to action. The provided the information about the scale and scope of gun violence so individuals and organizations can better identify actions steps that any and all of us can take for the future. They connect networks to improve relationships, resolve, and readiness to ACT.

Continue reading Sowing a Nonviolent Country

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Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace CoverNo matter where we live, events of the world reach us instantaneously. Whether we are personally effected by acts of violence, natural disasters, injustice, or tragedy, we are each touched by the ramifications of another occurrence of brokenness in our world.

As Christians we are called to be bridge builders of peace, voices for the voiceless, and agents of reconciliation. Our church communities respond instantaneously in times of crisis, and we are hungry to learn how to do more. Whether individually or corporately, by collaborating with each other we can make a difference.

There are two “resources” that will soon be available as new tools for our individual and corporate toolboxes for proclaiming peace, justice, and reconciliation – to be agents of hope.

Continue reading Hope in the Midst of Crisis

Truth in Advocacy

A sermon given at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, CT on May 25, 2014 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

Acts of the Apostles 17:22-31 + 1 Peter 3:13-22 + John 14:15-21

spiritThe last six weeks of my father’s life were not pleasant. He was shuffled between the hospital, a rehab facility, and numerous doctors and therapists. He was not capable of making his own decisions and was confused by the chances and changes that were rapidly accelerating into his waning life. My role as daughter changed; I became his advocate to make sure he was fed and received the dignity he was due in his last days. And my role didn’t go away after his death; I realized I needed to ramp up my activism for him so that others did not need to suffer the way he did. My advocacy became a principle of justice.

We all advocate for that which we believe in. We go to bat for our children to make sure they have health care and the best education. We put our money and efforts in causes we believe in – whether it is a candidate running for political office, a community organization or charity such as Habitat for Humanity or finding homes for abandoned dogs. We speak out to the injustices we see around us through writing letters, attending hearings, signing petitions – for equal pay, environmental issues, human rights.

Every one needs an advocate at some point in their life. And we are often called upon to serve in that role, at expected and unexpected times. Advocates are important to those who are helpless and voiceless.

Have you ever wished you had someone to advocate for you when no one else stepped forward in your time of need?

As all of our readings today remind us – we DO have an advocate! It’s not the advocate we think about in our day-to-day life. And I would guess it is not one we call upon when we are in need. Yes, we may cry out, “God help me!” but this advocate is present to us at all times and in all places, whether we ask for it or not.

As our Easter season begins to come to a close, our lectionary texts shift focus from the resurrection of Jesus to the presence of the Spirit as the mode of the Risen One’s continuing engagement with the community of faith. This week we have the promise of an Advocate that is called the “Spirit of Truth.” We might call it the “Coming of the Advocate” season.

On Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after the Resurrection. Jesus will depart from us, being elevated to sit “at the right hand of the Father” as stated in our creeds. Ten days later – June 8th this year – we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost when the focus falls directly on the presence of the Holy Spirit, that completion of God as Creator and God as Redeemer in Jesus, to make the Trinity. That holy mystery of three-in-one, one-in-three, which we then celebrate the Sunday after Pentecost. So we are entering a very theological and non-scientific time in the life of our church calendar.

And this human Jesus prepares to depart from his disciples, he does not leave his followers orphaned. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to abide with his disciples of every generation. As Pentecost draws near, we are reminded that the risen Christ dwells in each of us as the Spirit of Truth. We receive this Spirit in baptism and prayer that in our gathering at the Eucharistic table the Spirit will transform us to be the body of the risen Christ in the world.

In the midst of this shifting of seasons, it is fitting that this Saturday we will participate in the Rite of Confirmation with Christ & Holy Trinity – Westport, Emmanuel Church – Weston, and St. Mark’s – Bridgeport here at St. Matthew’s. Bishop Jim Curry will join us as we gather to support those who will make a public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and receive the laying-on-of-hands. We will be reaffirming our belief in the one Body and one Spirit, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.  We will be proclaiming our faith publicly, albeit within the four walls of a church.

What if we were to publicly affirm our beliefs in the public arena, like Paul and Peter did? Our confirmands (and we) face a world much like the world of Paul. He faced the challenge of proclaiming the gospel to Greeks who know nothing of either Jewish or Christian tradition. Reaffirming our faith is committing to be partners in advocacy with the Spirit; to be the voice of Jesus for those who need to hear the Good News.

We live in a society that doesn’t talk about such things openly. We read about “nones” and “spiritual but not religious” in the news. In reading the faith statements of our confirmands, I am always struck by their hesitancy, which is very age-appropriate, to commit to this belief system of a three-in-one God. Bishop Curry will prayer over them for the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower them to be faithful servants of the Gospel. As they continue go forth, my prayer is that they will continue to be bold in proclaiming their faith beyond these walls.

For Peter, our Christian beliefs and behavior are to be a matter of public record, just as our baptism is. I think Peter would like our confirmation service. In some regards it is safe – the real world is beyond our doors and as Christians, we are faced with all of the temptations that pull us away from our Baptismal Promises: sin, racism, brokenness, greed, and isolation.

But we are giving a glimpse of the truth today that shows us the way. God has given us the gift of love through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love creates a life and world God intended from the very beginning. The Spirit is the Advocate that brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible. Jesus glorifies God, and the Spirit glorifies Jesus. Both of them bear witness to the truth and expose us to the sin of the world – all those things which we promise to fight against in our Baptismal Covenant.

How we act and what we do matters to God. We need to be able to respond creatively to the challenges we face as Christians in today’s world. We need to be Paul in the 21st century.

Being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we CAN be advocates for one another, knowing we are not alone. We CAN proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We CAN seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We CAN strive for justice and peace among all people. We CAN respect the dignity of every human being. We can’t do it alone. We need each other for support. We need to gather regularly together to be fed with spiritual food, prayer, teaching, and fellowship.

As Christians, our call is to be an advocate for God.

Jean Vanier has asked, “How can we live and love as [Jesus] did, except through the mysterious gift and power which he gives through his Spirit, so that we become his face, his hands, his heart and body?”

We are given this “truth” from the reality that is God, in whom we live and move and have our being.

Educators ARE Advocates

Over fifteen years ago I was invited to participate on the design team for a national church event. At the time I was working part-time in a congregation and serving on a diocesan children’s ministries committee. While I had attended numerous church-wide conferences before, I had never been invited to actually be part of the planning process for one of such magnitude. It was an Episcopal child advocacy conference, held in conjunction with the annual Children’s Defense Fund conference in New York City. I recall my first meeting and while we went around introducing ourselves, I remember stating that I did not consider myself an advocate for anything – let alone children. Seasoned leaders smiled at me, telling me I was an advocate in the fact that I was an educator and cared about children’s ministries.

Through these past years I have  learned the importance of Christian educators advocating for the least of these – children – as well as the ministry that is often overlooked, easily dismissed and defunded as one that will always be around due to the good hearts of many – Christian education. I have also learned that I have a voice, and with research and colleagues working together Christian educators can make a difference.

Education and advocacy go hand-in-hand. Teaching is about advocating for knowledge and creating a hunger for learning and exploring one’s gifts. At the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held July 2-12 in Indianapolis, many of us learned the power of networking, collaboration and uniting together in one voice. From the disheartening proposed budget that was announced on March 1st that cut 90% of the funding to our church-wide office of Formation & Vocation, through the final days of General Convention when a new budget was adopted that put almost all of the funding back, Christian educators have been lobbying their representatives to General Convention, sharing their concerns and passions.

How did this happen, especially when so many have lost their positions on congregational and diocesan levels in recent years? A few examples, from the individual to the groups involved:

Educators rallied. A group of 50+ formation leaders throughout the church representing all ages and a variety of ministries asked to be part of an advocacy group. Within that, individuals were creative in finding ways to spread the word about the importance of Christian formation on a denominational level. Much of that work can be found at Building the Continuum. Josh Hill (Connecticut) encouraged dioceses to share a book about the future of formation with all of their deputies.

Networks across the age level agreed to work together and not compete with one another, knowing that together our voices would make a difference. Gone were the days of pitting youth leaders, Christian educators, campus chaplains and young adults against each other for funding.

Individuals contacted those in positions of power. The resolution that came before Convention was submitted by a deputy who had listened to a local educator (Dontie Fuller of Indianapolis) and asked for some funding to be restored. The Education Committee took the resolution (D037), reworded it and it resulted in being part of the final budget.

Educators attended and spoke at committee hearings (Missy Morain, Wendy Barrie, myself and others) as well as hearings sponsored by Program, Budget and Finance (Wendy Barrie with Lyle SmithGraybeal and Randall Curtiss – Forma Board members). Each person who spoke was articulate and professional. We answered questions with facts and experience. Due to our witness, those in leadership positions turned to us as the “experts” during meetings, asking for our thoughts when a question occurred during their discussion.

Social media was used for communication, mobilizing and networking at a moment’s notice.

Educators stepped into leadership positions. Many took their place in the councils of the church, being elected or appointed to decision-making bodies of the Church. Having formation leaders members of numerous Standing Commissions (Keane Akao, Janie Stevens, Laurie Bailey and myself), Executive Council (Fredrica Harris Thompsett), elected deputies from their dioceses allowed the voices of many to be represented at all levels of decision-making. Educators on the Education Committee who asked questions that got to the heart of the matter and strategized to fill the podiums in the House of Deputies at the right moment included Debbi Rodahoffer (Kentucky), Anne Kitch (Bethlehem), Barbara Ross (Oregon), Tom O’Brien (Southeast Florida), Kathy Munson-Lutes (South Dakota), Jenny Ogleby (Vermont), Karla Woggon (Western North Carolina) and Vicki Garvey (Chicago). Bishop Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina co-chaired the Education Committee and was a consummate advocate for formation. And many others too numerous to mention.

Networks and organizations wrote Position Papers and Talking Points to the issues, include Sue Cromer (Chicago) with the Young Adult Network, Shannon Kelly (Ohio), and the Episcopal Council for Lifelong Christian Formation with MaryLou Crifasi (Southern Virginia) and Cindy Spencer (Olympia) spearheading their statement. Wendy Barrie (New York) took the lead for Forma, showing how important an organization can be if it speaks out in boldness, truth and love.

Learnings for the future:

  1. Christian educators need to advocate for their ministries.
  2. If formation leaders don’t put ourselves in positions that influence decision-making, others will make decisions for us.
  3. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. For our future and generations to come.

Sine die. Let the ministry continue. 

Learn the outcomes of formation-related resolutions at Building the Continuum.