On this blustery Sunday, my thoughts have been centered on keeping my dorm warm and dry for the guys living here. Our furnace went out Friday night and was finally providing heat and hot water again for us on Saturday evening. Dealing with this rather insignificant emergency has prompted me to consider yet again how easy my guys and I have it. I can call our maintenance department and wrap myself in warm sweaters and cozy blankets until the problem is corrected. We are privileged, indeed. And, living in Hillsdale, I don’t have to come face-to-face with those who are suffering without heat or food or a place to live very often. I know we have homelessness and poverty but it is well-hidden here.
Last week, I prepared our Wednesday Bible study on the Scriptures we read this past Sunday, the Second Sunday after Epiphany, from the curriculum Living the Good News (available from Church Publishing). Because of icy roads, I never made it to the study – my partner in leadership did – but I was impressed by a comment in the reflections on the Gospel reading about the marriage feast at Cana:
“They have no wine.” Mary’s statement encompasses more than the immediate, physical need to keep the wedding reception rolling. As Elizabeth Johnson points out in Truly our Sister, it is a painful reminder of the scarcity in which Galilean peasants lived under Roman occupation. For once they wanted to escape their grinding poverty and celebrate—until the wine ran out. Mary’s initiative prompts a bountiful abundance—simple math suggests 120 gallons of the finest vintage!
Furthermore, Mary’s words describe the situation of countless people around the world today. “They have no wine,” nor health care, safety, food, jobs, freedom, education, opportunity, political power. Johnson puts it eloquently: “Mary’s…call for relief corresponds to God’s own dearest desire.”
The sermon on Sunday flushed this out a bit more. In her words, the Rev. Deacon Cindy Corner pointed out that Jesus’ miracle of changing the water to the very best wine – and wine in abundance – was not to draw attention to himself but to respond to the needs of the bride and groom, saving them from embarrassment and ridicule. He was modeling actions that go above and beyond what’s merely minimal to demonstrate the extravagant love he expects his followers to live out just as he did. Cindy asked us to work to be aware of the many needs of people all around us, to care enough even when meeting these needs is not part of our agendas, to share the gifts that God has given us and to dare to be extravagant in showing love for all people. She made it easy for us to remember: be aware, care, share and dare. Thank you, Cindy!
Maybe that’s a long way of getting to our resolution for today yet, in reality, I think this intro is appropriate for all our resolutions. They are all about getting beyond our own interests and meeting the needs of others because of the love that Jesus has poured out upon us. This week, I’d like to focus on a resolution that seems appropriate for the news we’re hearing these days with so many people -including the furloughed federal workers – unable to provide for themselves:
C041: Repair America’s Safety Net
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church direct The Office of Government Relations to advocate unflaggingly for the federal government of the United States to close gaps in the safety net which cause millions of Americans to suffer eviction, homelessness, inability to access health care, medical debt, and hunger; and be it further
Resolved, that Episcopalians, Dioceses and The Episcopal Church advocate at the federal, state, and local level for adequate nutrition, healthcare, and housing as human rights which should be provided to all residents of this country, and for which eligibility is determined only by the applicants’ current financial need, and all eligible people receive the aid for which they qualify; and be it further
Resolved, That Episcopalians, dioceses, and The Episcopal Church oppose federal cuts in tax credits that benefit low-income families including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Child Care Credit, and advocate for similar tax credits at the state level; and be it further
Resolved, That Episcopalians, dioceses, and The Episcopal Church oppose health care proposals 1) to limit public benefit funding to block grants, or 2) to cut off new enrollment of income-eligible people at a future date irrespective of their needs, or 3) to stipulate that people who lose eligibility when their income rises cannot re-enroll if their income falls again in the future due to loss of income, and be it further
Resolved, That Episcopalians and dioceses in the 19 states that did not accept the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion advocate with their state legislators and governors to accept this benefit and federal funding for their constituents; and be it further
Resolved, That Episcopalians, dioceses and The Episcopal Church call on Congress to make the cost-sharing provisions of the Affordable Care Act an entitlement; and be it further
Resolved, That Episcopalians, dioceses and The Episcopal Church call on Congress to cap the mortgage interest deduction for wealthy taxpayers and direct the increased revenue to low-income housing assistance programs; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $83,750 for 1/4 FTE staff person at the Office of Government Relations to track federal and state legislative proposals on public benefit funding and eligibility, and to provide timely action alerts to dioceses, and Episcopal Public Policy Network
Resolved, That the Episcopal Dioceses and congregations provide networking relationship for housing and employment to refer homeless people to assist in getting employment and housing.
There’s a lot for all of us to do in this resolution. We might begin by following the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s (EPPN) homepage to learn about the specific issues they are addressing in the Church right now. One of the issues they are highlighting is the need to put an end to the government shutdown. Their Facebook page explains:
It is reckless and dangerous to keep the government closed over a disagreement about the way forward on immigration and border security – that is an important conversation, but in the meantime, we should not hold federal workers’ lives hostage, nor should we risk the safety and well-being of our communities being jeopardized. Urge Congress to work with the Administration to immediately reopen the federal government.
If you go to the EPPN homepage, you can enter your contact information and they will forward a letter to your legislators for you. It’s a great way to start.
Another great resource to find ideas of how others are responding to our call to love all our neighbors is the Episcopal News Service (ENS). They also had an article on how some Episcopalians are living through the shutdown and how others in our church are reaching out to those affected by it. Some suggestions include supporting local food pantries, offering to pay utility bills, and purchasing gift cards for food and necessities. Read the article; it’s really helpful!
The above resolution asks a lot of us. We can’t sit idle and assume others are taking care of this. Maybe your church could gather a group of letter writers to tell our representatives how we feel about all the resolves. Or, perhaps, you are the good letter writer and would be able to share your skill with the rest of us. Here are some tips from the Congressional Management Foundation:
Direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers’ decisions than other advocacy strategies. In three surveys of congressional staff over a 10-year span, 99% (2004), 97% (2010), and 94% (2015) said that “in-person visits from constituents” would have “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided lawmaker.
Congress places a high value on groups and citizens who have built relationships with the legislator and staff. When asked what advocacy groups should do more of to build relationships with the office, 79% of staff surveyed said “meet or get to know the Legislative Assistant with jurisdiction over their issue area” and 62% said “meet or get to know the District/State Director.”
Citizen advocates are more influential and contribute to better public policy when they provide personalized and local information to Congress. 9 out of 10 (91%) congressional staffers surveyed said it would be helpful to have “information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.” However, only 9% report they receive that information frequently. Similarly, 79% said a personal story from a constituent related to the bill or issue would be helpful, but only 18% report they receive it frequently.
Citizens have significant potential to enhance their advocacy skills and influence Congress. After concluding 40 hours of CMF/Feeding America advanced advocacy training conducted over four months, citizen-advocates from local food banks met their Members and congressional staff. Whereas 12% of congressional staff report that the typical constituent they meet with is “very prepared,” 97% of the congressional staff who met advanced advocacy trainees agreed that these citizen-advocates were “very prepared” for their meetings.
However we do it, we need to move beyond ourselves and speak out on behalf of all of God’s beloved children. What a blessing that we don’t have to do this alone; we have each other! Together, let’s live out this resolution and make a difference.
Let us pray –
God of the broken,
God of the wanderer,
Christ who is without shelter,
Surround those in deep need among us.
Surround them and help us hear their cries for help.
We are a people who long for the broken to be mended,
We long for justice in the face of much corruption,
We want to practice hospitality but have legitimate fears,
Surround us in our trying times and help us to reach beyond ourselves.
We confess we are bogged down by so much need in the world,
May we have the courage to stand for what is right even when it offends,
May we have the imaginations to help create a better world,
And the strength of your Spirit to carry on.
Let us be as you are in this world.
(Prayer written by C. Wess Daniels, PhD)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council