Call to Renewal

Healing Body and Spirit

Once a month, Leslie Brown buses children to see their mothers—inmates housed at Dwight and Kankakee Correctional Centers in Illinois. She offers self-esteem classes for the women, provides referrals to social services, and helps the children's caregivers with housing, counseling, and clothing through her Chicago-based organization, Support Advocates for Women.

Brown also runs Leslie's Place, a transitional home that provides housing for eight women who are recently released from prison. Brown and her youngest children live in the home. There she offers parenting and life skills and holds a weekly Bible study. The Illinois Department of Corrections now funds part of her program, a partnership that is unique in the state's history.

Brown began the program soon after she was released from prison, when she faced the challenge of raising her six children with little support. Since 1994, 80 women have passed through Leslie's Place, and only three have returned to prison. Given the state recidivism rate of 60 percent, and the $30,000 it costs to hold one inmate for a year, Leslie's Place has saved the state thousands of dollars.

Support Advocates for Women is one of hundreds of successful faith-based ministries across the country. Many had the opportunity to learn from Brown's work at Call to Renewal's National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform, held January 31 to February 3 outside Washington, D.C. More than 650 people—twice as many as expected, representing hundreds of organizations from more than 35 states—focused on successful models of faith-based ministries. Twenty-nine denominations were represented, and participants included state senators, legislators, and other local and regional elected officials, as well as representatives of the social service departments of nine states.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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Hands-On Experience

In April 1997, Gen. Colin Powell convened the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia. It became known as the "Volunteer Summit." Until the last minute, faith communities were excluded from the plans and ultimately were only minimally represented. In this context the Call to Renewal conceived the "National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform," planned for February 1-3, 1999, in Washington, D.C.

It is well known that churches and faith-based organizations have consistently delivered services to needy people. Over the years they have offered prophetic voices of advocacy as well as fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned. From Catholic Charities and the Catholic Worker movement to the Gospel Missions and the Salvation Army, people of faith have sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly, been there throughout the years.

While we come together in our various affiliations, we rarely come together as a whole—crossing affiliation, theological, ideological, and political lines. Now more than ever before, crossing those barriers is critical.

As the true impact of the 1996 welfare bill begins to manifest itself, it is important that we strengthen our ties with one another and encourage the ongoing development of a network of faith organizations to monitor the results. We have much to learn from each other, much to share, and many lessons to offer our national leaders. While the welfare bill lacked provisions to track those leaving welfare rolls, we know that more people are just disappearing than are actually finding meaningful living-wage employment. Despite the politicians who would have us believe that "happy days are here again" for America's poor people, and despite all of the best efforts of many, we need to be asking the critical question, Where are they?

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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An Imperative to Overcome Poverty

As churches and faith-based organizations around the country work with people moving from welfare to work, we are becoming acutely aware of needed changes in government policy. On February 1-3, 1999, Call to Renewal’s National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform will bring together hundreds of key people from faith-based organizations actively involved in community-level work to make and build on these experience-to-policy connections.

Building toward the National Summit, the Christian Roundtable on Poverty and Welfare Reform convened its third meeting on September 16. Nearly 50 leaders of diverse constituencies joined in an exciting day of information-sharing and consensus-seeking on these critical policy questions.

Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action opened with a presentation on the theological imperative of new policies to lift the bottom 25 percent of our society out of poverty. Analyst John DiIulio discussed the current state of efforts to overcome poverty. He noted that since 1993, it has become respectable in the public debate to assert that poverty no longer exists as a persistent problem. Call to Renewal, he said, is in a uniquely powerful intellectual and moral position to make the case that there is still serious poverty in this country. And, through our links with faith-based anti-poverty organizations, we are able to facilitate a process of developing new policies to overcome poverty.

Building on the poignant observation of one participant that we don’t view all children in our society as our children, DiIulio proposed a simple but profound challenge: Can we make a shared commitment to develop and support a genuine safety net which would ensure that no child in America goes without the basic needs of life--food, shelter, health care? Such a safety net has never before existed in America.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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Putting the Poor on the Map

A day of preaching compassion to Congress.

In this Washington summer, it sometimes seems the only issue gripping Congress and the media is the ongoing saga of alleged sex scandals in the White House. People who are being removed from public assistance programs are sliding out of sight and out of mind, with few stopping to ask where they are going.

On June 1, Call to Renewal convened a daylong "Capitol Preach-in" to bring the message of God's concern for the poor to the U.S. Congress. Hosted by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), a dozen of the best-known preachers in America participated in the event. Call to Renewal Convener Jim Wallis set the tone for the day: "The poor in America have become missing persons. We are going to put poor people back on the map in American politics."

Rev. Yvonne Delk, from Chicago, began by saying:

As preachers, we have come to bring the Word of God to the nation's capital. We are here to say that we will not continue to tolerate the fact that most people coming off welfare are not finding jobs, but instead are finding themselves on the streets, in shelters, and in increasingly longer lines for the soup kitchens.

One after another, the preachers proclaimed the Word in the House office building. Rev. James Forbes, of Riverside Church in New York City, declared: "We have all been under a powerful mandate ever since Jesus said that it is illegal in the sight of God to have any economic system that factors in the inevitability of a permanent underclass." Rev. Ray-mond East, of Washington, D.C., told us that God has already given us a welfare reform plan—it's in Leviticus 25 and it's called Jubilee! And Rev. Bill Pannell, from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, reminded us that preaching is not only about words but about announcing our intention to live out the words we proclaim.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Building Common Ground

One of the most important goals of the Call to Renewal is to unite Christians who traditionally have not worked together, on the issue of poverty. We are using the metaphor of a "roundtable" to describe a new partnership. These local roundtables are not a new organization, but a table that can bring people together for common action.

Organizing these local roundtables is a central part of the development of the Call to Renewal network. It is an opportunity to build new relationships and connections, to engage in vital discussion about the church’s responsibility to the poor. It is a chance to discover new ideas, to explore common ground, and to profile some of the best faith-based programs in the community. An active roundtable can strengthen the voice and impact of the churches in the debate and process of welfare reform in their community and in the deeper biblical mission of overcoming poverty in our society.

Bringing together the right people for planning a roundtable is critical to its success. Representatives from the key Call to Renewal constituency groups—evangelicals, Catholics, historic black churches, Pentecostal, and mainline Protestant—should form the core of the table. Service providers, advocacy groups, local officials, and the business community then round it out.

In many communities, some of these groups already meet together; in very few are they all together. Call to Renewal is becoming the opportunity and the catalyst to bring together a full table. These new multisector partnerships working together can make a significant difference in most communities.

It is important to identify someone who will act as a convener of the roundtable. This person should be someone well respected in the community who is able to transcend the barriers and help to bring the various sectors together.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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Local Work on a National Problem

While government officials claim that welfare "reform" is working, the facts contradict that myth. Reports continue to show that half to three-quarters of welfare recipients are simply being dumped. No one really knows what is happening to them, except for widespread reports of an increased demand for emergency assistance.

In this situation, we need to reassess the 1996 welfare legislation and make needed midcourse corrections. Political leaders should stop boasting about getting people off welfare and make a commitment to help millions of families out of poverty. That task will require cooperative efforts in every community.

As Call to Renewal focuses on the creation and development of local roundtables, we are witnessing a coming together of the churches along with political and business leaders. The new commitment that is needed is appearing in an increasing number of communities. Call convener Jim Wallis and national field organizer Rev. Emory Searcy Jr. have visited nearly 30 communities so far this year.

In January, Wallis spoke at the annual prayer breakfast of the West Virginia state legislature, where legislators of both parties eagerly received the message. The president of the West Virginia Council of Churches agreed to coordinate a West Virginia Call to Renewal table.

Call to Renewal of Memphis, Tennessee, is focusing on education as one key to overcoming poverty. The table is working on family support, after-school, and preschool child care programs.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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Into High Gear

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.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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Pray, Teach, and Share

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.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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Slothfulness in the Land

Many of you will remember the story of the industrious ant and the lazy grasshopper. When fall rolled around, the ant got busy storing up food and preparing for the coming winter. The grasshopper laughed at the hard-working ant. The ant ignored the foolish grasshopper's ridicule and went about his work. Autumn eventually turned into winter. As the snow fell and the winter winds blew, the grasshopper would have starved if not for the kindness of the little ant.

King Solomon advised slothful people to study the ant (Proverbs 6:6). Ants are unselfish; each ant works for the good of the community. If everyone was this industrious and caring, a number of problems in our communities would be solved. "Lazy hands make a person poor, but diligent hands bring wealth" (Proverbs 10:4). But slothfulness is in the land.

Poor people and the system have not had the friendliest of relationships. Part of the blame lies in the system's pride, confusion, and limitation. It acts with defensive hostility, while fearfully clutching to the status quo.

CALL TO RENEWAL believes the future of authentic religion, with healing power for our nation and a truly reliable relationship between the system and the poor, takes us back to the church—the church in Jesus' mind, not the one that's in ours. Back to a new honesty, back to a bright tomorrow that only starts today.

It's time to renew. It takes new vision to reach new generations of Americans who are searching for spiritual truth. Call to Renewal believes that these generations will not search for truth in the traditional churches that mirror the 1940s and 1950s, when half of America was in church on Sunday morning. With a new millennium three years away, churches must come to grips with their declining situation, cast a fresh vision for renewal, and commit to it.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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A Table in the Wilderness

As last year’s 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 partnerships—with 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.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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