The Common Good
March-April 1997

Not a Needy Person Among Them

by Diane MacDonald | March-April 1997

Churches plan nationwide Pentecost actions.

On the first Pentecost, the Spirit of God descended upon the believers gathered in Jerusalem and they began speaking about God's powerful deeds. That empowerment brought about the creation of the church, and the believers went into the streets proclaiming the gospel and forming a new community. That Spirit is with us still, and empowers us to renew our commitment to justice and to proclaim good news to the poor.

The Call to Renewal is calling for actions around the country on Pentecost Sunday, May 18, to affirm that we as a society are responsible for how we treat the most vulnerable among us. The call is for churches to gather in their houses of worship, pray to be empowered by the Spirit, and then go to state capitols, municipal buildings, and other appropriate locations to witness on behalf of those who are poor. Those gathered will report on the welfare plans of their state—evaluating the plan’s adequacy to meet the needs of those who are poor—and speak to the responsibilities of church and government.

Religious leaders and service providers are deeply concerned about the aftermath of federal welfare legislation that will cut people off from assistance programs with no provisions for work and with no accountability on how block grant funds will be allocated. Congress and the president responded to the critical need for fundamental reform of the welfare system with welfare repeal, and fairness, justice, and compassion are in danger of being swept aside. Many fear that a social disaster is in the making.

The religious community is now called upon to provide the moral accountability that is lacking. We need to advocate for just state legislation, and we can lead in finding new ways of overcoming poverty.

We also have the responsibility to witness to our communities, giving a voice to the voiceless. This is a crucial opportunity for the religious community to proclaim our witness for justice to elected officials and to the public. The unifying symbol of Pentecost can give clarity and focus to that witness.

IN MANY PARTS of the country, churches and service providers are mobilizing in a three-part agenda. First, to organize. New coalitions are forming, bringing together churches and service providers. Groups that have not worked together before are realizing that there is a need for a new unity to deal with the current situation. The networks that formed during the fall 1996 Call to Renewal tour, for example, are becoming involved in this effort. The Call’s major national priority is to work with and assist these networks in community education and organizing.

Second, for advocacy. These coalitions are pressing state legislatures to cooperate with churches and service providers as they develop their welfare plans. They are working to ensure that states implement the least restrictive rules possible under the new federal law. States have great latitude in many areas under the new law, so our work can make a difference.

Third, for service. While churches and charities cannot (and should not) fill the legitimate roles of government, in many instances we can be doing more than we are. Opening churches for shelters and soup kitchens, establishing day care and after-school programs, and assisting in job location and creation must become a more central part of our ministry.

The Pentecost events will be an opportunity for people around the country to act in a coordinated and unified manner. We can proclaim, in prayer and action, that those whom Jesus called "the least of these" are our sisters and brothers whom we cannot abandon. Both the church and the government have essential roles in helping to overcome poverty.

Local events can focus on praying, teaching, and sharing—reminiscent of the early church (Acts 2:42).

  • Praying. Church services can offer prayers urging justice for those who are poor. The public events could include prayer vigils.
  • Teaching. Events can include educational activities such as a press conference, letter-writing campaign, speakers, or petition-signing.
  • Sharing. A simple meal of soup and sandwiches can be shared with the community. Churches can also take monetary offerings for local service ministries.

Through this unified witness, and through our renewed commitment to compassion and justice, we work toward that day when our society can proclaim, as Acts 4:34 tells of the early church, that "there was not a needy person among them."

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