Standing Up for the Vulnerable: A Community Response to 'The Line'

By Phil Haslanger 10-15-2012
Sheila Edwards Howard, one of those profiled in 'The Line'
Sheila Edwards Howard, one of those profiled in 'The Line'

On a conference call with people from across the nation who held screenings of The Line, you could hear frustrations mounting from people struggling with the challenge of reducing poverty in America.

How do you engage people in rural areas, asked one woman. Why were Native Americans left out, asked a man from Minnesota. A priest who has worked on housing the homeless for a lifetime expressed the exasperation of someone who has devoted much time and seen little progress.

The battle against poverty is a long slog. That’s why it was good to hear some of the comments of folks gathered last week at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis. (just outside Madison) after the opening night showing of The Line.

They were deeply affected by the stories of the four people in the movie, of course. But some of the people in the audience talked about their relief that for the first time in several years, the local county budget for social services that had just been introduced did not continue cuts of past years and even made a few gains.

There were many factors in that, of course, but one was the continued work of faith communities in the Madison area to be a voice for those on the margins of our community – the homeless, the disabled, those in jail, those battling poverty day by day in their homes. The Madison-area Urban Ministry has been a key organizer for the faith communities.

MUM’s director, Linda Ketcham, set up multiple meetings between faith community leaders and the county executive. During last year’s county budget debate, faith community leaders sent emails to county board members detailing the kinds of assistance we were providing to people in need, telling the human stories that were beneath the blizzard of budget numbers.

We have not solved all the problems of poverty in Dane County. What we get are small and often fragile victories along the way. But when faith leaders here joined their voices with other’s in the community on behalf of the most vulnerable among us, we helped create a climate where elected officials could make choices on behalf of those vulnerable ones.

In that, there is hope.

Phil Haslanger is pastor at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis.

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