Episcopalians focus on hunger, poverty
The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane’s new Organizing for Mission team is joining in a national plan to engage Episcopalians in ending global hunger and poverty.
At the diocese’s convention on “Recipes for Mission” last month, Bishop Jim Waggoner Jr. told delegates that growth of congregations requires equipping people so they can step out and change lives.
“We have to work together to change the landscape for those who are hungry, homeless and hopeless, and for children in some local schools, where 50 to 90 percent of children go to bed hungry,” Waggoner said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Through the Organizing for Mission team, he hopes the diocese will transform communities and mobilize people through “living, loving relationships.”
The team will engage area Episcopalians in a 2011 Lenten Mission Initiative to address hunger by committing 0.7 percent of their incomes to local and global hunger ministries.
Half of gifts received will go to El Hogar Project’s Episcopal Agricultural School and Farm in Honduras, leaving half for parish teams to use for local projects.
Helping the Organizing for Mission Team develop leaders and equip people for mission will be the Rev. Devon Anderson, a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Minneapolis and national director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.
In a convention workshop, she told of equipping leaders around local-to-global mission efforts related to the Episcopal Church USA’s commitment to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted by the United Nations in 2000.
The focus is on ending the “staggering, rising global poverty of people living on less than $1 a day – the bottom billion,” Anderson said.
The eight goals include eradicating extreme poverty; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; containing HIV/AIDS and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating global partnerships for development.
“If every country gave 0.7 percent of their gross national product, the goals would be accomplished by 2015,” Anderson said. “The United States gives just 0.2 percent of its GNP to the MDGs.
“The heads of more than 194 countries signed on to the goals and are developing partnerships between the haves and have-nots,” she continued. “The plan is to work from the bottom up, not top down.”
Internationally, the Episcopal Church – like other churches – has organic, community-to-community, diocese-to-diocese, bishop-to-bishop relationships, Anderson pointed out.
“The Gospel calls us to charity and justice,” she said. “The two go hand-in-hand. Justice requires changing systems. When governments are unstable, it’s hard to funnel funds through them, but churches have connections with churches in communities around the world.”
In 2001, the Episcopal House of Bishops, meeting two weeks after Sept. 11, saw the crisis as a call for reconciliation, Anderson said. In face of anger, the bishops discussed how to minister and lead people to act without retribution, seeing the attack as a call for reconciliation and healing in the world.
The 2003 Episcopal General Convention in Minneapolis held a forum on global reconciliation, recognizing that Christians can be agents of reconciliation by engaging global poverty.
“Globally we have everything we need to eradicate it – technology, money, resources, communities and networks,” Anderson told delegates. “We need the will.”
She remembers the crowd that packed St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis flowing out of the cathedral and into the General Convention to pass a resolution that called every level of the Episcopal Church to give 0.7 percent for some expression of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
From that convention, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation formed to work with Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) to start an MDG fund for the 40 countries where it already works. The goal is to raise $6 billion.
Projects under way include the ERD Nets for Life, providing mosquito nets to protect children from malaria.
By the 2006 General Convention, 82 percent of dioceses gave 1 percent to MDGs and the national church gave 0.7 percent, for a total of $1 million.
At the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, the 0.7 percent had been eliminated from the proposed budget along with other major cuts, but it was restored, Anderson said.
“Spending on global poverty was seen as optional in the economic downturn, with people in the national church losing jobs, retirement incomes down and strain paying diocesan staff,” she said, “but we restored it through efforts of the Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, the ERD, Episcopal Church Women and young adults.
“While we cut $23 million in church center staff and programs, we restored $800,000 for the MDGs. We would not forsake our commitment to people who are barely living.”
A U.N. summit on the Millennium Development Goals in September found that despite the economic downturn, there have been some advances, including a historic drop in childhood mortality because of mosquito nets.
Anderson said the Washington, D.C., office is increasing efforts to equip people to make systemic changes, keeping Episcopalians informed of bills to create policies that make a difference.
She led a pilot project in Organizing for Mission in Minnesota, helping eight congregations build leadership and organizing people to talk about investing in MDG projects.
“We took $14,000 and turned it into $100,000, increasing the annual stewardship of churches,” Anderson said. “We drew new people, people interested in coming to churches that were dealing with the enormous world problems. We trained 50 new leaders, quadrupled giving and revitalized congregations.
“People want to be part of mission, and we find that money follows mission.”
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