Tens of thousands of Americans lost food stamps on March 1, as the provisions of the 1996 welfare legislation began to go into effect. Hundreds of thousands more were cut off on April 1. Although some states have sought waivers from the cuts, large numbers of people are still affected.
On March 5, some 300 Washington, D.C.-area homeless people and their advocates, led by the Call to Renewal, gathered on the U.S. Capitol lawn for a soup and sandwich meal, press conference, and prayer service. Our message to Congress and the religious community was that those people who are now being discarded by society cannot be allowed simply to disappear. As Christians and as members of society, we are obliged both to serve and to witness for justice.
Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal and Sojourners, David Beckmann of Bread for the World, Rev. Wallace Charles Smith of D.C.s Shiloh Baptist Church, and Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) spoke to the press. "This is the first round of cut-offs, with more to come," said Wallis. "These are real people with real needs. We do not intend to let them go quietly into the night. Scripture offers a clear mandate about all our responsibilities to poor people, and it holds government responsible as well."
Hall noted that he has written to every member of Congress, urging them to "leave their office for a few hours every month" to volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen to learn whats really going on in America.
Meanwhile, volunteers from Sojourners and Shiloh Baptist Church served sandwiches and bowls of hot soup to people from several nearby shelters. Following the meal, a group of local pastors led a prayer service asking God to bless our efforts and to move the hearts of our political leaders.
THIS EVENT AT the U.S. Capitol is an example of the kind of event that will be happening across the country on Pentecost Sunday. Call to Renewals "Pentecost for the Poor," which urges sharing, teaching, and praying, has drawn an enthusiastic response. A wide variety of congregations and organizations have responded to this call to offer moral leadership for the sake of the poor in our nation. Examples include:
- The Pennsylvania Council of Churches has endorsed the action and is urging member churches and congregations to join in a soup line at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
- The Church Council of Greater Seattle endorsed the action and is encouraging member congregations to participate. In addition, their Annual Meeting service of worship the Tuesday before Pentecost will be organized around this theme with local faith-based service providers invited to participate.
- The Concerned Clergy Coalition of Kansas City, representing 120 local pastors, is promoting the action in its network.
- In Miami, the Christian Community Service Agency, a major ecumenical group, has taken the lead in organizing local congregations. It is holding its annual Walkathon the Saturday before Pentecost and is planning an interfaith rally.
- A group of congregations in Manhattan will hold morning services on the Pentecost theme, then join together for a soup line at City Hall.
- Other events are being organized in Austin, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Memphis, Jackson, Boston, and San Diego, as well as in many local congregations.
We hope that your congregation or organization is planning to initiate or participate in an event in your area. If you are, please write or call to let us know. Send us any flyers, announcements, press releases, church bulletins, or other materials you develop. We want to know what is happening around the country so we can provide a national focus to the events in the media and throughout the network.
It is our prayer that through recommitting ourselves to compassion and justice for the poor, we continue our work toward the day when our society can proclaim, "There was not a needy person among them."
Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. To be put on the Call mailing list, send your name and address to Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8842. If you can volunteer at the Washington, D.C. office, give Sue Stine a call. For up-to-date information on Pentecost plans around the country, see the Call to Renewals new home page, www.ari.net/calltorenewal