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Episcopal Church report addresses U.S. poverty with model for development initiatives

March 12, 2009
Office of Public Affairs

A groundbreaking report released on March 12 calls on The Episcopal Church to address the issues and concerns of the poor in the United States, focusing initially on the needs of Native American communities through its proposed “Model for Domestic Poverty Alleviation.”

The report, titled Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action, is based on the outcomes of the 2008 Presiding Bishop’s Summit on Domestic Poverty. The innovative model outlined in the report will work in tandem with the Episcopal Church’s global poverty initiatives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“The Episcopal Church focus on the Millennium Development Goals has raised consciousness in our own faith communities and the broader culture about the need to address abject poverty in developing nations,” explained Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “This work has increased mission fervor and deepened spirituality. We need to bring the same passion, organization, and accountability to our work on domestic poverty – in the poorest regions of the United States. Social statistics and the conditions of life are quite similar in the poorest areas, both in the U.S. and abroad, but the MDGs are addressed solely to poverty in the developing world. We need to use both lenses (international and domestic; distance and near vision) to see the least among us and around us.”

The full report is available here.

Faith in the Balance
The 40-page report, prepared by the Rev. Christopher A. Johnson, Episcopal Church program officer for Domestic Justice and Jubilee Ministries, details the data and recommendations gathered at the three-day summit in May 2008.

“The focus on domestic poverty alleviation serves as a complement to our Church’s commitment to the effects of international poverty expressed through our MDG campaigns,” Johnson said. “We have a significant history of commitment to issues of domestic poverty, but this is our first effort to work collaboratively as members and organizations across the church for the common good as it pertains to domestic poverty.”

“The report on U.S. Domestic Poverty complements the Church’s ongoing commitment to overcoming poverty through the Millennium Development Goals, which apply to the developing world,” said the Rev. Canon Brian J. Grieves, senior director for the mission centers and director of the advocacy center. “The focus on the ‘least of these,’ whether in Africa or South Dakota, demonstrates our Church’s commitment to God’s mission of reconciliation. It’s the Church’s job to promote justice for the most vulnerable, especially in these economically difficult times, and I look forward to seeing how the General Convention meets the immense challenges before us.”

Resolution for General Convention proposed
The report includes a suggested resolution for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention 2009 in July “to recognize the pressing challenges to those living in poverty and the working poor throughout this nation and call for new and innovative strategies to address issues related to nutrition, employment, childcare, education, healthcare, environment, housing, as well as equal protection under law and cultural affirmation.”

The resolution also asks for a special focus in “recognizing that many of the poorest counties in the United States are among Native Peoples living on reservations, gives priority” to Native Americans “whose population has increased while disparities in income, economic security, health and health care, and quality of life continue unabated.”

Anderson noted, “Working with the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry, this domestic poverty initiative has the potential to begin to address debilitating poverty that has been in existence and increasing since 1786 with the displacement of native people and the creation of the first reservations. I am optimistic and hopeful.”

“Many Native Americans live in geographically defined areas that are among the poorest counties in the United States, so the initial focus on the Native American community provides an opportunity to establish measurable goals and lines of accountability,” Johnson explained.

The resolution calls for an advocacy program in “federal, state and local governments to reduce poverty in these counties, and measurable goals to build capacity and sustainable communities through development initiatives working with local dioceses and tribal governments” with proposed funding at $400,000 annually.

“It is said that when the devout woman was asked how often she prays, she answered, ‘One hour every day, except when I am very busy. Then I pray for two hours,'” commented Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. “This same principle can be applied to our baptismal promise to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Episcopal Church is called to respond to oppressive poverty in our country as well as across the globe. During these challenging economic times, when we are ‘hard-pressed,’ it is the time when we must give more. Like the woman who prays more when she has less time, we must give more when the economic times are tough.”

“As Jesus said, ‘When you do these things to the least of these, you do them to me’ (Matthew 25). He was talking about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and caring for those with little or no hope,” Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori noted. “Our gospel work includes ‘preaching peace to all the peoples of the earth, those who are far off and those who are near,’ as the mission prayer in Morning Prayer daily reminds us. Francis of Assisi challenged us to ‘preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary.’ I hope and pray that this ‘Call to Action’ may deepen our engagement in the gospel to those who are near as well as those who are far away.”

Those who attended the May 2008 Domestic Poverty Summit in Phoenix will serve as team leaders to facilitate the implementation of the call to action. “I am asking the various organizations that comprise the Episcopal Church to work collaboratively with others around themes they share in common,” Johnson said, noting that other stakeholders will be invited to participate.

The full report and other related resources and documents are available on the Jubilee Ministry pages of the Episcopal Church website.