“In a year when we have learned that American households are experiencing the highest poverty rate since 1993, the government in Washington has spent an inordinate amount of time debating which entitlement programs to cut. Rather than asking themselves if there is some new initiative that can and must be tried to break this downward cycle, some members of Congress have been looking for way to cast out from the human family those who are suffering the most.”
— the Rev. Joel Gibson, Director of Member and Faith Based Services The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
“The problems of homelessness and poverty are not self-inflicted, they are the result of priorities of our society and those priorities are not centered on people but on gathering more wealth for a small number of people. Many of us [homeless people] – despite the stereotypes – drew deeply on our faith and the fact that we’re all children of God and organized ourselves. We’re homeless, not helpless. That’s why our call is to work with us and not for us.”
— Willie Baptist, Scholar-in-Residence The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary
“Budgets are moral documents!”
—Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners
On Wednesday November 16th a Interfaith coalition of clergy, advocates, service providers and students from Bread for the World , The Children’s Defense Fund-NY , The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies-FPWA , Hope Africa Project-NY, Living Wage-NY , Metro Hope Church , Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development-MWIRD , North American Association of Christians in Social Work-NASW , Nyack College , The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary , Sojourners  and a host of other faith communities and organizations came together in East Harlem to encircle Friendly Hands Ministries in prayer.
Friendly Hands Ministries represents social service agencies across our nation that are facing debilitating budget cuts due to the impending Super Committee and appropriations processes. By encircling this ministry in prayer we are symbolically encircling all of the organizations and programs that are facing budget cuts.
Friendly Hands Ministries provides a variety of direct social services to East Harlem, while engaging in local advocacy efforts.The Rev. Domingo Vasquez, director of Friendly Hands Ministries, shared his testimony about growing up in East Harlem, having a powerful conversion experience and going on to serve his community. Vasquez works in cooperation with other Latino/a clergy to lead Friendly Hands Ministries, which administers services such as: Medicaid screenings, immigration legal services, housing and a feeding program.
The purpose of our action was not just to pray for Friendly Hands Ministries, but to pray with this powerful organization, while standing in solidarity with East Harlem.
Prior to our time of prayer Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners urged the crowd to action by speaking to us about the gravity of the potential budget cuts, while calling us to the Circle of Protection Principles.
Willie Baptist, a scholar-in-residence in The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary , reminded us that although direct services and charity are important, it is essential that we begin to build a social movement to end poverty.
Baptist reminded us of the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., senior minister emeritus of The Riverside Church and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation , prayed that the faith community would take a stand for justice. We ended with a powerful sending forth by the Rev. Anita Burson, pastor of Elpida Community Church, and Ella Baker, a fellow for The Micah Institute at NY Theological Seminary . Burson invited us to participate in the Many Voices, One Goal Rally for Living Wages  on November 21 as a tangible next step we can take towards economic justice in our city.
The NYC Human Circle Action  was a time of powerful prayer; won’t you join us in praying for justice:
We stand here today, wrapping our arms and our prayers around Friendly Hands Ministries here in East Harlem and around communities across our country – we are asking you to speak loudly to the Super Committee; speak to us all.
We pray for our leaders in government, business, and the media, that the laws they write, the bottom lines that are inked, and the stories they pen will demonstrate an investment and priority in our children today for our future tomorrow.
Divine Spirit, as we speak our truth clearly and loudly, may we not become complicit in or with the transactional policies that render those we serve faceless, voiceless and nameless. Remind us that the current policies could likely have us join the people we currently seek to serve because we too will find ourselves not able to meet our basic needs.
Hashem watch over all people without a voice, all people who are forgotten and all people ready to be empowered. El Shaddai, Shakhinah Eloheinu, we atone for our ignorance, our apathy, and our vanity. Bring us into an awareness of the strangers in our midst. Hashem grant us the strength to change our government, our policies, our ways and ourselves. Keep burning in our hearts the love of righteousness, truth, and justice.
Build within us the dream of what could be in the midst of what is yet to come.
O God, help us to recover our hope.
Help us to recover our courage.
Help us to recover our discipline.
Help us to recover our ability to work together.
Help us to recover our values.
Help us to recover our faith in Thee.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen
[Prayers written by Andrew Rosenthal M.Div, Rev. Emma Jordan Simpson-Children’s Defense Fund-NY, & Chaplain Nurah-Rosalie Amat'ullah, D.Min-Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development]
Sarah Rohrer is a regional organizer for Bread for the World .