To his disciples, Jesus simply said, "follow me." That was an invitation, not a requirement, because an invitation respects the freedom of the invitee to accept or decline. An invitation was extended to the country to come to "Poor No More," the fourth annual National Summit on the Churches and Poverty.
In response to the invitation, more than 550 pastors, lay people, service-providing ministries, community development organizations, and representatives of human services departments gathered at National City Christian Church and the historic Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., for three days of worship, prayer, reflection, learning, and sharing.
Conference participants heard powerful messages of hope and determination, from the first evening's opening service led by Harvard University's William Julius Wilson and Rev. James Forbes, Senior Pastor at Riverside Church in New York, to the closing sermons on the conference's last day by Rev. Wallace Charles Smith of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Noel Castellanos of the La Villita Community Church in Chicago, and Mary Nelson of Chicago's Bethel New Life. Rev. Skip Long, national director of Jobs Partnership, blessed our souls with a creative spin on the Good Samaritan story titled "The Measure of Your Mercy."
Conference goers were also blessed with the joyful noise of song. The opening ceremony had music by Washington, D.C.'s Shiloh Baptist Church Youth Choir and by Darren Ferguson, of Exodus Transitional Community in the Bronx, who was observing the first anniversary of his ordination. Ferguson lifted us up throughout the summit with traditional music, some of which he composed. The trio Divine Blessings (which consists of Rev. Donna Sandiford, Roberta Blair, and Sojourners own Rachel Spaght) blessed us for yet another year with their harmony and interpretation of God's word through their music. Throughout the three days, Ken Medema-utilizing styles from classical to rock and ballads to blues-thoroughly engaged and inspired his audiences. The conference closed with two very strong and stirring renditions from the Call to Renewal "Poor No More" conference choir, which was directed by Sandiford in its first-and only appearance.
WORKSHOPS COVERED a wide variety of subjects. Participants learned that AIDS is now the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa and that 90 percent of the world's 11 million AIDS orphans are in Africa. They heard that the civil rights movement may have buried Jim Crow, but the American Dream continues to bypass millions of Americans, both black and white. The welfare rolls may be shrinking, but the penalties for those seeking assistance and help are expanding.
In recent months, reports have painted a clearer picture of the impact "reform" is having on those most directly affected by the changes in social policy. The number of working poor is exploding, and more are falling through the gaps in the safety net. This is the time to reframe the poverty issue in our nation. We all know what Jesus had to say about our responsibility to the least, last, and the left out, those who are too often the forgotten in terms of church and public policy priorities, plans, and provisions.
In response to this reality, Call to Renewal ended its summit on the East steps of the U.S. Capitol to launch the "Covenant to Overcome Poverty" and bring the word of God to the U.S. Congress. Standing with Jim Wallis, the convener of CTR, was a wide-ranging gathering that included representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, the U. S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Catholic Charities USA, the Christian Reformed Church, the Reformed Church of America, the Evangelical Covenant Church, Habitat for Humanity, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Community Development Association, the Church of God in Christ, and Bread for the World-who all agreed it is time for society to rise above differences and to overcome poverty. When we reach beyond human-made barriers, which are only mental and emotional obstacles, then we will help to usher forward that day when there will truly be "Poor No More."-Rev. Emory Searcy Jr.
EMORY SEARCY JR., tenor soloist for the "Poor No More" conference choir, is national field organizer for Call To Renewal. Contact Call To Renewal, 2401 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8745; firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.calltorenewal.com.