As last years welfare legislation continues to take effect around the country, hungry and homeless people are showing up on the steps of our churches and organizations. Our time and resources are being stretched.
Psalm 78:19 tells that the Israelites, weary from their journey, their faith waning, asked: "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" The answer came as God "rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven."
As we struggle in the wilderness of a country that seems to have lost its way, we ask the same question. And we see that since Call to Renewal was formed, new tables have been spread in the wilderness. In the midst of a society that increasingly seems to demonize the poor, deny racism, destroy family, and devalue life, these tables are bringing people together across old divisions:
People developing new projects and partnershipswith government and business, and directly with people living in poverty.
People committed to new ways of overcoming poverty, dismantling racism, rebuilding family and community, and affirming life.
These tables came together in 30 states on Pentecost Sunday, in a witness and action with those who are poor. Another table came together in Philadelphia on April 26 at the Christian Roundtable on Poverty and Welfare Reform.
Building on these events, the second annual Call to Renewal national conference will be held on Friday and Saturday, October 17-18, at the Washington National Airport Hilton in Arlington, Virginia.
This will be the opportunity for local tables to come together for a time of meeting others, sharing ideas and successes, and training to continue mobilizing the network.
The conference theme is "Mobilizing People of Faith to Overcome Poverty: The Role of the Church in New Social Policy." Our local ministries are developing new and creative ways to meet the needs of those who are poor and teaching us valuable lessons that can help to shape public policy.
Invited conference speakers include Stephen Carter on the potential church-state questions raised, Marian Wright Edelman on policies involving children, and Rev. James Forbes on the role of individual congregations.
Other speakers include John DiIulio, John Carr, Rev. Yvonne Delk, Rev. Eugene Rivers, Sharon Daly, Mary Nelson, Father Bryan Hehir, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis.
Frederica Mathewes-Green and Naomi Wolf will present a model of how to conduct common ground dialogue on controversial issues. Additional panels include new conversations on racial reconciliation and justice, organizations and programs that are making a difference in overcoming poverty, and several others.
Issues workshops will focus on key questions involved in overcoming poverty, including charitable choice, the Earned Income Tax Credit, campaigns for a living wage, education vouchers, new partnerships of church-government-business with those in poverty, Jubilee 2000, campaign finance reform, and others.
Skills training workshops will focus on topics that include organizing a town meeting, organizing a local Roundtable discussion, working with the media, building a Call to Renewal network, holding common ground discussions, and more.
We will also spend time in worship and prayer, knowing that "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain."
The conference will provide the opportunity for organizers and activists to meet togetherfrom the same region, or with others sharing similar concerns. Learning from each others successes and failures and sharing our visions and ideas are important in building a new network around the country.
We are planning this conference with the goals of solidifying the Call to Renewal network, learning about key policy issues, learning new skills, and learning from each other. We hope you will plan now to attend.
I look forward to seeing you in October.
Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. For more information on the fall conference, contact Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8842; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail: Call_to_Renewal@ convene.com, or see the Call to Renewal home page at www.ari.net/calltorenewal . To volunteer at the D.C. office, please call Sue Stine.