As the opening notes of Ken Medema's piano sounded on the morning of Friday, September 13, more than 500 people listened in rapt attention. The Call to Renewal's "National Forum on Faith and Politics" had begun. Religious leaders, organizers, and activists from all over the country came by car, by bus, and by plane to learn, to share, to pray, and to strategize.
Rev. Yvonne Delk opened with a powerful message of personal and societal renewal: "The social transformation we are seeking for our land will not come without a spiritual transformation."
Panels addressed some of the critical issues of our time-the Christian response to poverty, making commitments to end racism, ethics and morality in Congress, creating a more civil dialogue in the "culture wars," and the contributions of our religious traditions and organizations toward the development of a new political vision.
Sen. Bill Bradley spoke of the importance of restoring a vibrant civil society in order to maintain democracy, then stayed 30 minutes beyond his scheduled time to answer questions from the audience.
In Friday's keynote address, Jim Wallis spoke of the need for a new politics grounded in compassion, community, and civility. Healing the nation requires moving beyond politics-as-usual to a new vision.
A Saturday luncheon featured Marian Wright Edelman, founder and executive director of the Children's Defense Fund. She exhorted the audience to work for the protection of children in the face of the recently passed welfare legislation, and proclaimed, "It's time for the religious community to be the moral locomotive for social change and not the moral caboose."
On Friday evening, Jim Wallis and Ken Medema led a "Let Justice Roll!" service at nearby St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. Marian Wright Edelman, Bishop Walter Sullivan, Barbara Williams Skinner, and Rev. Wallace Smith participated with prayers and testimonies on the biblical imperative of justice for those who are poor while Ken answered with song.
A Saturday evening "Welcome Table Community Banquet" brought conference participants together with some of Washington, D.C.'s poor and homeless people to share a meal catered by a local non-profit organization that trains and employs those who have been homeless. Rev. James Forbes and the choir from D.C.'s Shiloh Baptist Church provided the message in word and song.
The conference was an inspiring, exciting, and learning time for those in attendance. It provided a national forum and focus for the growing Call to Renewal network.
Immediately following the conference, Jim Wallis began a 30-city Call to Renewal speaking and organizing tour. The enthusiasm and momentum of the conference are being carried across the country as several hundred people turn out to each town meeting.
In the discussion and workshops following Jim's presentations, participants are proposing next steps. Most frequently suggested is a national clearinghouse and newsletter by which local groups can share stories of what's working around the country, and can learn from and support each other. Local efforts are islands of hope working for renewal; we need to "connect the islands." This communication can also assist local groups in linking their work to public policy through coordinated advocacy on key issues at key times.
As we develop our 1997 program, these ideas and suggestions will be given high priority.
Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Further information on the Call to Renewal conference will be in the next Call newsletter. To be put on that mailing list, please send your name and address to Call to Renewal, c/o Sojourners, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8842.