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Domestic poverty work focus of Presiding Bishop’s Summit


Following a three-day Summit on Domestic Poverty, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori released a communiqué, noting that “we are just beginning to engage this ministry in a coherent way that draws in the whole of the church in the United States.”

Nearly 100 representatives from all areas of the country gathered in Arizona May 13-15 to focus on domestic poverty issues, including social causes, anti-racism work, economic justice, ecological and environmental concerns, healthcare, children, social justice, immigration, prison ministry and more. The diverse group of lay and ordained Episcopal participants was joined by ecumenical representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Moravian Church, and United Methodist Church. All proceedings were presented in American Sign Language.

At the start of the summit, the Presiding Bishop said the focus would be on three questions: “Who are we; why are we here; what are we doing about it.”

She also underscored that the summit was not about a domestic-based Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) program.

“MDGs have been a singularly important vision for this church to help us remember that we are a people of mission,” noted Jefferts Schori. “That work is not only overseas. The great gift of the MDGs is an awakening for this church. It’s not a question of either/or.”

She explained that the MDGs are important because they are measurable and have a timeline, requiring accountability. Also, Jefferts Schori added, the MDGs focus on developing nations, not on the U.S. “Their gift has been that they have both awakened this church to a greater sense of mission, and helped us to be more accountable.”

Sonia Omulepu, coordinator for the event, spoke of the summit’s important work. “So many people are suffering today and our church needs to do something about it.”

John Johnson of the Office of Government Relations commented, “This is not another meeting of Episcopalians getting together to once again re-define poverty. The reason you are here is because we assume because of your ministries that you know what poverty is. This is a summit. We’re here to think strategies.”

A series of group discussions, theological reflections, Bible studies, work sessions and lectures guided the diverse group of participants to look at ways to address the vast and intertwining issues of domestic poverty. The group shared their stories of how poverty reached into their consciousness and affected their ministries. Challenges, opportunities and strategies were key discussion points in both small group and plenary discussions.

Scripture readings, led by the Rev. Michael Battle of the Diocese of Los Angeles, and worship services were woven throughout the day, keeping an eye on the fact that the group was focusing on God’s work.

A PowerPoint presentation revealed “eye-opening” statistics: 36.5 million people live in poverty: Caucasian 8.2%; Asian 10.3%; Hispanic 20.6%; African American 24%; Native American 27%. The yearly income of poverty threshold for a family of four is $20,624.

Signs adorning the conference room walls illustrated the work issues of poverty. The first, called “Imbalance of Power,” depicted uneven scales, with “Barriers to Access” weighted heavier than “Essentials of Justice.” The second sign detailed the “Essentials of Justice”: affordable, quality food; employment; housing; education; affordable, quality childcare; a healthy environment; equal protection under the law; economic opportunity; immigration policy; cultural affirmation; healthcare.

“A series of new and innovative strategies and ideas for better collaboration and response were drawn from the expertise of those ”doing justice“ based on Scripture and our Baptismal Covenant,” the communiqué said. “We reviewed, discussed, and looked at issues from all angles and perspectives.”

The document concludes: “Our work on domestic poverty does not end here; rather, we are just beginning to engage this ministry in a coherent way that draws in the whole of the Church in the United States.”


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