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 wholecrossing 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?