Shortly before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a press conference Nov. 19 to celebrate the long-awaited health reform legislation unveiled Nov. 18, pastors and lay leaders from states with senators whose votes are seen as crucial to the outcome of reform gathered outside the Capitol Building to pray for continued progress on legislation to extend affordable coverage to families.
"Today we mark another key moment in this historic debate for families," said the Rev. Claudia Hollinger, a deacon at St. Jude's Episcopal Church and clergy leader with Flint Area Congregations Together in Flint, Michigan. "The legislation that Senator Reid announced would extend coverage to 31 million, ban insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and help small businesses deal with rising health care costs, all while reducing the deficit by $127 billion. The bill is not perfect and we still have work to do to make coverage affordable to all families, but it is an important step forward."
In addition to the prayer event, which was sponsored by PICO National Network and Faith in Public Life, the clergy and lay leaders who traveled to D.C. from Louisiana, Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, New York and Vermont were scheduled to meet with their senators' offices.
Susan Reid, of Christ Episcopal Church in Montpelier, and a member of Vermont Interfaith Action, made her second trip to D.C. on behalf of health-care reform for the Nov. 19 prayer vigil and Senate office visits.
"I ended up working with my local parish on health care issues," she said in a telephone call following Reid's press conference. "The stories that people have told us compelled me to come down to D.C. to make sure people get the health care they need."
Through her work with Vermont Interfaith Action and PICO, Reid has encountered many people who have lost not only their jobs, but their heath care, she said.
"I feel hopeful," Reid said, when asked what she thought of Reid's plan. "The legislation may not be perfect, but it's a step toward helping families to not live in fear."
As of Nov. 18, Senate Democratic leaders were "trying frantically" to secure some of the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the legislation, according to news reports. The House passed its version of the health care bill earlier this month.
Over the coming weeks, PICO National Network, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Interfaith Worker Justice, Catholics United and other faith allies will be holding religious leader conference calls and meetings with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska's chief of staff, urging them to support reform and highlighting the devastating impact on families in their states if reform fails to pass.
The Episcopal Church has passed resolutions on numerous occasions stating that all people should have access to quality affordable health care. Most recently, July's General Convention passed several health care-related resolutions (C071, D048 and D088) in support of universal access to quality and affordable health care in the United States and called on Congress to pass comprehensive health-care reform this year.
In September, seven Episcopal bishops, working together as "Bishops Working for a Just World," made their annual trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on health care and immigration reform, as well as stricter environmental protection.
The Episcopal Public Policy Network has issued appeals urging church members to contact their elected officials in support of health care reform.
"All year long, people in thousands of faith communities across America have been praying hard for reform that helps them deal with the rising cost of health care," said the Rev. Frederick McCullough, pastor of St. John AME in Omaha, Nebraska. "They've been praying that our leaders in Washington put aside partisan politics and work together to make health care more affordable for their families."
The Rev. Erik Karas, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church and a member of PICO Colorado in Eaton, Colorado, summed up the event by saying, "Next week, when many in America will gather to give thanks for all that we are blessed with, we pray that we will also be able to give thanks for the courage, the wisdom and compassion exhibited by our leaders in Washington at this crucial moment in our country's history."