5 Questions with Clara Gregory
1) How long have you been affiliated with Jubilee Ministries, and in what capacity?
I have been blessed to have served Christ as Diocesan Jubilee Officer for almost six years, since my original appointment to this position in November 2010 by the Right Reverend George E. Councell, 11th Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey, and reappointment by the Right Reverend William H. Stokes, in 2013. But even before these appointments, I was already affiliated with Jubilee Ministries as Outreach Chairperson at Trinity Cathedral, and through the parish nutrition and health ministries there, which share the common interests of addressing domestic poverty, and empowering the poor and oppressed. To me, all this work is at the heart of the Gospel, since: However, we serve the least of our brothers and sisters – we serve Christ (see Matthew 25:35-40).
2) What is/are your role(s) in your diocese? In your parish? In a ministry or ministries?
As Diocesan Jubilee Officer, I provide communication, facilitation, and leadership (both electronically and through site visits) to organizations and individuals interested in becoming Jubilee Ministry Sites. At present, there are 25 established sites in our diocese. Due to the fact that in our “Garden State,” 1 in 8 people struggle with food insecurity, 90% of the established sites include various feeding programs. Last year there were more than 500,000 bags of food distributed across the Diocese.
I use my Jubilee budget to provide start-up grants for community gardens which not only produce food but serve as centers for teaching people about gardening and about nutrition to promote healthier living through healthier eating. I assist parishes in the set-up of food pantries by negotiating arrangements with New Jersey food banks, and I also assist in the organization of fundraisers targeting the alleviation of hunger, such as the Battle Against Hunger Bike Tour and the Soles for the Harvest 5K, Fun Run/Walk.
At Trinity Cathedral, I work in the support of multiple feeding programs: a bi-monthly Food Pantry, a weekly Friday Community Lunch, and the summer Farmers’ Market by writing grants to fund their expanding work. In the interest of promoting better health, earlier this year, we received a grant to establish a safe walking trail on the Cathedral grounds that will introduce members of the parish and community to the benefits of exercise. In addition to parish volunteers, many community members have been recruited to work with us in these programs.
For a listing of all the Jubilee sites across the domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church, please visit our page at the Episcopal Asset Map.
3) What’s one way you’ve been changed by your work alongside the economically disadvantaged?
Based on the definition of today’s society, I have been economically disadvantaged most of my life. My own experience has inspired me to do more for my sisters and brothers, “the others,” as they are so labeled. It has allowed me to understand the challenges of people on a journey filled with hurt and pain. It has made me more disciplined in prayer, not only for myself but for these brothers and sisters. It has driven me to follow Christ’s teaching to meet the concrete and immediate needs of “the others” that society is neglecting. From my own experience, I know that economically disadvantaged people are loved by God as much as anybody else. God created all of us. When people hear this from someone who is trying to help them through a journey “she” has traveled herself, they “get it” because we are all walking in the same shoes.
4) What does advocacy mean to you?
I believe that advocacy is about teaching people how to advocate for themselves. Education is key to advocacy, and education is a two-way street. Advocacy is not an aloof, top-down noblesse oblige, in which the privileged do something for the disadvantaged. It’s all about relationship. To advocate for people, you must get to know them – to learn their own stories of their hurt and needs. If you don’t really listen, you won’t understand what their real problems are. If you are advocating for people who are hungry, you have to bring them into the conversation, and then feed them. Then, it’s your turn to share what you know about the available resources. If need be, you go with them to show them where the office or hospital is, and how to cut through the red tape. You coach them in the skills that will enable them to advocate for themselves.
Experienced advocates also need to be available to assist well-meaning people who want to help, but don’t know how to begin. Jubilee ministry fosters and expands the network of people who have learned how.
Advocacy is an important aspect of Jubilee Ministries. Check out our 5 Questions post with Ms. Vicky Partin, Diocesan Jubilee Officer in the Diocese of Atlanta, to see how advocacy looks similar and different across the Church.
5) Where in your diocese (or parish, or ministry) have you seen Jesus?
People in outreach ministries often say, “If you love your neighbor as yourself, then you will see the face of Jesus in the people you help.” But we should be asking, “Will the people who come for help see the face of Jesus in us?”
I see the face of Jesus in
…people for whom the command to love God and neighbor has become so habitual that they are self-forgetting – for whom feeding the hungry is so spontaneous that they don’t give it or their role in it a second thought;
…in someone who knows their child was killed needlessly and can still say, ‘I forgive’;
…in women and children who have trouble making ends meet but know they will be okay because God will provide;
…in someone who opens the door for you or who says “Good morning!” and really means it.
…in someone who gives up his place in a long line to someone physically less able to withstand the wait.
Once you get “tuned in,” you can see the face of Jesus every day, because there are a lot of good people. And you can only pray that they will see the face of Jesus in you!
Canon Clara Gregory is the Diocesan Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of New Jersey.
If you are interested in having your church or ministry designated a Jubilee Ministry, please contact Mr. Christopher Sikkema at 212-716-6055 or Christopher Sikkema. The application to be designated a Jubilee Ministry can be found HERE.
The Rev. Melanie Mullen
Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care