The Common Good
March-April 1998

Into High Gear

by Duane Shank | March-April 1998

Building a movement to overcome poverty.

Pentecost Sunday is May 31, 1998. Following on last year's services and events around the country, the Call to Renewal is again urging that this Pentecost be a special day to focus the attention of the church on those who are poor. The second Call to Renewal "Pentecost to Overcome Poverty" occurs at a time when the situation is worsening for those facing poverty.

Our society faces a growing contradiction. As more and more people are moving "from welfare to work," the lines at food pantries and homeless shelters are growing. Many local ministries report that they are unable to meet the increased demand.

A recent editorial in Business Week called the situation a "disaster in the making," and noted that "going to work may force many people deeper into poverty. That's hardly what was intended."

ON THE WEEKEND of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the Call to Renewal Coordinating Committee decided to launch a national and grassroots mobilization that can create the conditions, networks, preparation, and training for a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

The moral crisis is already mobilizing people around the country, but a broader corporate commitment is needed to fully respond to this opportunity. There is a new openness in the churches for community ministry and a new willingness in our society to hear the voice of the church.

While not neglecting its other principles, the committee felt strongly that in the current situation, and with the initiative taken through our roundtables, conferences, and local organizing, God is calling us to a strategic focus on the priority of poverty. Our faith calls us to care for the widow and orphan, welcome the stranger, restore our streets, and act with compassion toward the least of those in our family. It is one of the most fundamental teachings of scripture.

We will create a new federated network that will include covenanted, affiliated organizations, local "tables," congregations, and individuals. The specific 1998 focus will continue to be on welfare reform and poverty, committing ourselves and our congregations to help families move from welfare to work with dignity in community.

Local Call to Renewal tables will be the heart of our grassroots work. Building on connections made during the past two years, these tables bring together churches, faith-based organizations and, increasingly, business and political leaders to work to overcome poverty in their local community. The message remains that each organization and each sector has a contribution to make, and that those contributions can be magnified by joining together.

As convener Jim Wallis and field organizer Rev. Emory Searcy Jr. travel around the country, these new tables are already forming. New alliances are being built between groups that historically have not worked together. Communities are looking at new ways of engaging the resources of various sectors in the struggle against poverty.

The Pentecost activities this spring will be an opportunity to announce the formation of these new tables around the country. Following special worship services in local congregations, public events will proclaim the beginning of a new Call to Renewal table. The events can be whatever is most appropriate for each community-ranging from town meetings to community meals to job fairs.

We are also developing a "pledge to help overcome poverty" by which individuals can become members. Persons signing the pledge will commit themselves to prayer, giving of time and resources, and judging economic and political choices by how they impact those in poverty.

In all our work, we are committed to renewal and revival in our own lives and our communities. Recognizing that "unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1), we believe that renewal is fundamental to our efforts.

Thirty years ago this spring, King launched the Poor People's Campaign, with the vision of creating a mass movement to overcome poverty in the United States. As we prepare for a new movement, we commit ourselves to his challenge "to rid our nation and the world of poverty. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will."

For more information, including a Pentecost organizing packet, please contact the Call to Renewal office.

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

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