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JusticeandMercyME embodies the both/and approach to fighting domestic poverty in Maine

By Canon Heidi Shott

In 2010, a loosely-organized group of laity and clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of Maine came together in response to the call of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. 2009 General Convention Resolution A155 for the church to “recognize the pressing challenges to those living in poverty and the working poor throughout this nation.”

The Rev. Heather Blais, right, with her mother the Rev. Rebecca Grant, a deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta, Maine.At the same time, a priest-in-formation, Heather Blais, was settling on a project for her senior year at Bangor Theological Seminary. The group, which became known as the Domestic Poverty Working Group and included the Rev. Mary Lee Wile, the coordinator of the Deacon Formation Program; the Rev. Shirley Bowen, the executive director of Seeds of Hope Jubilee Center in Biddeford; and Canon Heidi Shott, Canon for Communications and Social Justice met with Heather and the blue-sky conversation began.

What quickly became evident is that in the body of Christ all people have different roles and gifts to share. While we are all called to serve, some are drawn to ministry and advocacy that works to eliminate the root causes of injustice and poverty. Justice is their primary focus. Others are gifted with meeting those in need where they are - directly ministering those in immediate need. Mercy is their calling.  Fighting poverty in Maine and beyond requires both types of people and two sets of resources.

It became clear to the group that it would be helpful to have a web-based resource that connected those of all faith traditions to organizations that are already working to end domestic poverty here in Maine.  As this idea evolved it became JusticeandMercyME. Blais had her senior project and a ready-made group of supporters.

Launched in March 2011, JusticeandMercyME is a web-based resource that seeks to encourage and empower people of all faith traditions to join in the battle to end domestic poverty here in Maine.  In order to put an end to domestic poverty we need to be engaged in acts of mercy by meeting the needs of the here and now.  Those that are battling hunger and homelessness in our community need food and shelter today.  There are some amazing organizations, ministries, and communities finding innovative ways to meet the needs of the here and now in Maine and across the country.

At the same time, in order to put an end to domestic poverty we need to make systemic changes. We need to eradicate the roots of domestic poverty.  In order to do that, we need to engage in the work of justice.  There are some amazing organizations, ministries, and communities finding equally innovative ways to make systemic changes in our society.  Changes that could eradicate domestic poverty.

JusticeandMercyME, through both its web presence and its Facebook page, seeks to help connect the people of Maine with these great organizations, communities, and ministries.  The site includes contact information and links for more information encompass the topics of hunger, homelessness, and everyday necessities at the state and national level.

For nearly 20 years Trinity Jubilee Center has served daily meals to the people of the downtown Lewiston. Here Chad Jacobs prepares for another day.According to Mary Lee Wile, “Deacons are often at the heart of the ministries that focus on mercy: Chick Carroll helped establish the Gathering Place, a homeless day shelter, in Brunswick. Dick Rasner (who will be ordained in June) is the volunteer director at St. Elizabeth's Essentials Pantry in Portland. Many deacons are involved in feeding programs, some work with at-risk kids, some with the mentally ill, others engage in prison ministries where many of the incarcerated have dealt with poverty and will be released back into poverty. Over 30 deacons showed up in October to learn from DHHS how to help those among whom we minister access available programs.”

Maine’s two Jubilee Centers, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford and Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston have huge impact as community partners in their cities, both of which are described as small cities with big city problems.

JusticeandMercyME’s blog, which continues to be maintained by Blais, who is now Assistant Priest at St. Philip’s, Wiscasset, and Grace Church, Bath, serves to share other news, events, ministries, and organizations that address ending domestic poverty here in Maine. We believe that if we each “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” that we can fulfill the hope of ending domestic poverty.

--Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and serves as its Diocesan Jubilee Officer.