The Common Good
January-February 1998

Pray, Teach, and Share

by Duane Shank, Carol Fennelly | January-February 1998

How will your community participate in the second annual "Pentecost to Overcome Poverty"?

Call to Renewal’s second annual "Pentecost to Overcome Poverty" will be Sunday, May 31. It is not too early to begin planning for the activities your network can organize.

Acts 2:42 says that following Pentecost, members of the early church devoted themselves to praying, teaching, and sharing their bread with the poor. In 1997, 55 local actions and religious services in 26 states combined these elements—praying, teaching, and sharing. Congregations met in their houses of worship for a Pentecost service, then regathered at state capitols, municipal buildings, and other locations. Church-goers learned about the issues critical to welfare and poverty in their communities, prayed for those in need, shared a community meal, and reaffirmed that as church and society we are responsible for how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

In worship services and in other events, this day focuses on increasing awareness, educating people about the effects of welfare reform on individual communities and the nation as a whole, and working for justice for people made poor in our society. "Pentecost to Overcome Poverty" can bring together Christian values, experience, and community in an effective public witness.

IN MOST AREAS of the country, it is safe to say that a year into welfare reform, "welfare as we know it" no longer exists. What does exist is a crazy quilt of inconsistent policies varying from state to state, and in some cases from county to county. While there are some early success stories to report, the truly difficult work still lies ahead.

Those most employable, and on welfare for the shortest periods of time—the easiest to move from welfare to work—are generating impressive statistics in several states. Long-term welfare recipients—those who are least employable—are still waiting to make anyone’s charts. Also, the fate of people after three months of work, when most follow-up ends, and those dropped from welfare rolls but still unemployed is a huge unanswered question. We have a long way to go before welfare as we knew it is truly transformed into a decent living standard for all.

The churches’ role is still emerging. Some communities have relied heavily on local faith communities, others have depended solely on secular social service agencies, and still others have managed to combine the best gifts of both. In some places the potential offered in the charitable choice provision of the welfare law is being maximized.

No matter how your community is responding, Call to Renewal’s "Pentecost to Overcome Poverty" offers an opportunity for educating and organizing. If faith-based communities are actively participating in shaping and implementing social policy, activities can celebrate that while continuing to call government to do its share. If the religious community needs to be more involved in your area, this is an opportunity to call them to accountability.

"Pentecost to Overcome Poverty" offers churches a way to come together to talk about how poverty and social policy impacts your community and to find ways to act together. This can be a first step to opening dialogue among groups, congregations, and people where none has previously existed.

Actions could include: an interdenominational service focusing on poverty and the special needs of poor people in your area; a community meal held in a public place such as a county welfare office; a teach-in on the impact of welfare reform; a job fair for welfare recipients making the transition from welfare to work; a concert and canned food drive; or a volunteer fair that enables church members to find existing agencies with which to work. All of these take months to plan, so beginning work now is important.

A Pentecost organizing packet, including an organizing guide, worship resources, and a new "Pledge to Overcome Poverty," is available. Contact Call to Renewal at the address below.

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Write Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; call (202) 328-8842; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail Call_to_Renewal@convene. com or see the Call to Renewal home page at www.calltorenewal.com

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