Domestic Poverty

I wonder what walking humbly would look like?

May 30, 2012
Domestic Poverty

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

In this, our tenth quarterly issue of Jubilate, I continue a conversation that has been building through this e-newsletter series by many names – Jubilee Ministry is transformative ministry.  Fitting with Pentecost, let me share some reflections about the very spirit that makes Jubilee possible, the spirit that gives life to the Church.

How we engage one another

Let’s start by considering the spirit in which we are called to engage one another in ministry. For over 30 years my rule of life has been guided by the prophet Micah’s words: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

In a similar vein the 1982 organizing mandate for Jubilee Ministry (A-080) calls us to “meet basic human needs” and to “build a just society.”

Ministries focused on meeting basic human needs are ministries of charity (kindness). This is the mercy Micah is calling us to love as well. They teach us of our responsibility to give drink to the thirsty, to give food to the hungry, to clothe the naked, to welcome to the stranger, to care for the sick, to visit the prisoners and to bury the dead. In each of these cases our response is focused on meeting a basic need during a time when a person’s need is great and when the preservation of that person’s dignity is most vulnerable.

On the other hand, language like “building a just society” or “doing justice” evokes images of God’s shalom. They are like Isaiah’s images (11:6-9) of the wolf living with the lamb and the little child leading, images that envision God’s peaceable kingdom. Here the Spirit is anointing us to effect changes that go beyond meeting basic need until the very dynamics that create need are eliminated. In that context the issue is no longer about getting food for someone who is hungry. Justice concerns itself with questions like, “Why is this person hungry?” The Spirit of justice seeks to go deeper into the problem until its source has been identified and healed, so that the need for charity is eradicated.

Networking to make ALL our voices heard

So what does it mean when Micah tells us we must “walk humbly with our God.” It is to encounter our nothingness. But this nothingness is not focused on negating what we have. Here humility is our acceptance that, while having taken into consideration the nature of our gifts, we are ever aware that we depend on God to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves.

I remember a high school football coach telling me once that I was un-coachable. He said this knowing I was a captain of the team and that I had a disciplined work ethic. But he had observed that while I was so focused on trying to prove myself capable, I was not open to receiving the gifts he was trying to offer me as my coach.

To apply this to my experience of ministry, I have observed that when our ministries (mine included) are so focused on doing what we want to do, we are seldom open to receiving the gifts that God is trying to offer us through the very people we are being called to serve. When the people we call “poor” have gifts that God is trying to offer to those of us who act out of our sense of sufficiency, we deprive both ourselves and the givers if we cannot accept them.  

Moving toward transformation

So, if walking humbly means that we walk willing to acknowledge our areas of nothingness and to trust that our need will be met with God’s provision, how then is Jubilee Ministry being called to be transformative ministry?

I wonder.

What would it look like if we understood just how interdependent each of our ministries is on each other, as well as on the people we serve?

What would it look like if we developed Jubilee Ministry as a network that links ministries together, so that each can post its stories of success and disappointment as contributions for the mutual building up of the body?

What if we had a way to collaborate across the network to offer training and educational opportunities? To secure funding for regional and global initiatives? To share organizational management and administrative resources? To organize our grassroots communities focused on building a just society?

What would it look like if we understood Jubilee Ministry with broad intent, as it was originally envisioned and defined at the 1982 General Convention – as a ministry organized to  “implement and coordinate with other programs of the Church?

What would it look like if each diocese appointed a Jubilee Officer who is informed on all facets of Jubilee Ministry, and who is available as a resource to his or her bishop and congregations, and who supports and furthers Jubilee Ministries throughout that diocese?

Weighing our merits and pardoning our offenses

These are all things we are doing, some more successfully than others. We acknowledge we’re not there yet.

Here’s what we DO have:

  • 600 Jubilee Ministry centers
  • 76 Diocesan Jubilee Officers
  • 12 members of the Jubilee Advisory Board
  • A quarterly Jubilate e-Newsletter
  • New Jubilee Ministry designation certificates signed by and for presentation by the Diocesan Bishop and the Diocesan Jubilee Officer
  • Executive Council Affirmation of New Jubilee Ministry Certificates signed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies
  • A Jubilee web page
  • A Jubilee blog page
  • A Jubilee Facebook account
  • A strong history of support through General Convention resolutions
  • Liturgies for Commissioning of New Jubilee Ministries and Diocesan Jubilee Officers (and which can be adapted for annual use of re-covenant by the congregations)
  • Theologians – such as the Rev. Dr. Edmundo Desueza, the Rev. Dr. Judith Jones and the Rev. Dr. Monrelle Williams – committed to advancing the language of Jubilee.
  • Collaborating networking partners, including Churches in Metropolitan Areas, Episcopal Community Services in America, National Episcopal Health Ministries, Episcopal Appalachian Ministries and the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

With all of these assets, where is Jubilee Ministry in need of God’s fulfillment? That’s a conversation that continues every time we gather. And it will be on the agenda when Diocesan Jubilee Officers gather in November in Georgia. But here are some ideas about how Jubilee Ministry might continue to transform itself:

  • Jubilee Ministry centers might network around shared interests, and actively solicit and post reflections from guests and volunteers.
  • Jubilee Officers might network more often and more easily, and might work more closely with their diocesan bishops to support diocesan mission and vision.
  • Our Jubilate newsletter might offer more in the way of resource exchanges, as well as publicizing volunteer opportunities and recognition, and providing links to network ministry newsletters.
  • Our Jubilee web page could offer log-in accessibility for network interaction and posting, to make it easier to share videos, calendar items and other announcements. It could expand the number and depth of liturgical resources, including prayers and thanksgivings around social and economic justice and liturgies responding to issues of social justice. And it could better link to formal and informal educational resources useful to those engaged in the work of Jubilee Ministry.
  • We could expand our work around public policy, including linking to the Episcopal Public Policy Network and diocesan public policy networks, and post issues they are working on. We could keep a library of diocesan legislative histories around identified issues, and preview upcoming civic and church legislation.
  • Our Facebook page could become more lively and interactive, with more regular sharing of our stories.

These are just some thoughts. As I said, the conversation continues, and I invite your input.

–The Rev. Christopher Johnson is the officer for Social & Economic Justice for the Episcopal Church.