5-Session Webinar on Poverty and Working for Justice
By Bryan Tener
As a church leader, are you seeking to discern ways that your congregation can more fully engage your community and work together for justice? Are you getting stuck in thinking about what steps to take, in identifying the issues, or wondering where to start? The pandemic has shined a light on systemic inequality and poverty that is perpetuated by power structures of politics and economics. From access to adequate health care, to financial hardships, to racial injustice—the challenges that we face can seem daunting and overwhelming and leave us feeling helpless. But as followers of Christ, we trust in God’s lifegiving good news that is proclaimed in the cross and Resurrection and that makes itself known in tangible ways as lives and communities are transformed to be more like that of the beloved community—the beloved community that Dr. Martin Luther King invited others to live into, that Christians have worked for and invited others into, and that faithful disciples continue to work for today. The pandemic and all its effects and acts of racial injustice and the ever-growing movement for equality have certainly demonstrated that much more work is needed, so that this world looks more like that of heaven, and all would have their share of the things that bring life. The church has a powerful story to share and one that offers hope for the world as it works toward justice for all, upbuilds the community, and looks upon others as beloved children of God, offering the presence of grace and love to all people.
Poverty is often narrowly defined with a focus on income, but it can be more broadly defined in a way that drives us to reflect more deeply on how the church is called to offer the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, defines poverty as “the lack of freedom to have or to do basic things that you value'' (cited in “How to Define Poverty,” New York Times, May 26, 2001). Defined in this way, poverty is experienced in several spheres that make up the whole of life. From the political sphere, to physical, spiritual, cultural, and economic spheres, poverty can deeply affect the communities around us, creating isolation, disunity, and lack of access to the fullness of life that God has invited us into. Poverty— systemic poverty—undermines the vision of the beloved community that we as followers of Christ seek to work toward with God.
Beginning Thursday, October 22, Discipleship Ministries and Path 1 will be exploring spheres of poverty in two-hour sessions that will take place once a month for five months. Each session will feature panelists who can offer perspectives on a national and global level. Those serving through the local church or local mission will also be offering their experiences, learnings, and best practices to help leaders in local churches discern how God is calling them to engage their communities around these issues. Each session will have a resource guide as well as the opportunity to join a short-term cohort for further discussion and support in implementing actionable steps to help shape our communities to look more like God’s beloved community.
October’s webinar will focus on economic poverty. Rev. Dr. Michael Bowie, National Director for Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, and Rev. Mary Lee Downey, CEO and founder of Community Hope Center in Kissimmee, Florida, will be our panelists. Rev. Dr. Bowie just began his work in this role on July. Dr. Bowie served on the board of directors for Discipleship Ministries this quadrennium. For the last six years, he served as the senior pastor of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. In ministry for nearly twenty-five years, Bowie began following Jesus at Windsor Village United Methodist Church and accepted his call to ministry at St. Johns Downtown and served at Love United Methodist Church in the Texas Annual Conference. He also has served in the West Ohio Conference, where he was the teaching pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City and the lead pastor at Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Gahanna, Ohio.
Rev. Downey, a deacon in the Florida Annual Conference, is the founder and CEO of the Community Hope Center, which offers services to the homeless and disenfranchised in Central Florida. The center is focused on client-centric care and empowering those it serves to determine their own success and sustainability. Serving more than 45,000 individuals in the last seven years, the center focuses on a “Housing First,” model of care and poverty alleviation. The organization has been recognized by national organizations and national political leaders for its innovative work with the homeless and for its efforts to provide housing for people displaced by Hurricane Maria. Rev. Downey’s focus is on missional outreach through social justice in non-profit organizations.
Both panelists have much to offer out of their experience, their leadership, and their calling in what it means to lead and walk with others in the midst of poverty, to partner with God and neighbor, and to work to build the beloved community that God desires for us and all of creation. Registration for the series will begin September 16, with more details to follow.
The November 17 webinar will focus on cultural poverty. The discussion on December 15 will center on physical poverty. On January 14, the webinar will focus on spiritual poverty. On February 16, our webinar series will conclude with a discussion on political poverty.
You are invited to consider this series as an opportunity to support your continued discernment of how God is calling you and your congregation to engage with your community and your work for justice, so that all people will have the opportunity to experience God’s power for life and live into what God desires for us— the beloved community. For questions please contact Bryan Tener at [email protected].