April 12, 2012


Imagine if every church meeting began by asking the same question: “How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?”

In 1991 the late Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth E. Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, issued a decree that for three months all church meetings, at every level, regardless of purpose, must begin by asking this question. This practice resulted in a heightened awareness “not only about the poor, but also about us, and how we think about (or don't think about) the poor.” (See “How Should We Think About the Poor”.)

Bringing this practice to the Episcopal Church during the calendar year 2013 is the goal of the Association for Episcopal Deacons who have submitted this as a resolution to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

“Care and empowerment for people living on the margins of society is certainly one of the core messages proclaimed in the gospel, but too often the needs and concerns of people living in poverty are treated as an afterthought or ignored completely when we are doing the church’s business,” said Deacon Pamela Nesbit, President of AED. “This is not an abstract or theoretical issue; many people are extremely concerned about the proposed church budget that has just been released, a document that seems to completely ignore our mission and who we are as a church in favor of maintaining buildings and the offices of church leaders,” she added.

Consistent with the practice that it hopes to see adopted church wide, the AED Board is including "How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?" as an agenda item at all of its meetings, and it urges other church entities to adopt this practice whether or not the resolution is adopted at General Convention. The AED Board also voted to send a letter to all Bishops and Deputies, urging them to make the effects of their actions on people living in poverty a part of every meeting, discussion, or time of personal study and reflection on convention business. “With the issues currently facing the church and convention, particularly the proposed budget, we obviously don’t want our representatives to put off thinking about people living in poverty to a later time after the important decisions of this convention have been made and the future direction of this church has already been determined,” said Nesbit.

As I was reading the deacon’s press release, three previously unconnected pieces of information came to mind:

The image of Thomas Jefferson’s “edited” Bible from which he cut the ‘diamonds’ of Christ’s teachings out of the ‘dunghill’ of the New Testament” (“The Forgotten Jesus,” by Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek, April 9, 2012) 

Recent comments offered by congregational leaders related to the challenges of bringing about change in their congregations in the January/February 2012 ECF Vital Practices reader survey.

Stacy Saul’s reflection, “Remembering About God,”  and his invitation to join him in remembering Christ through our actions, “being the hands and feet and vision and compassion of Christ in the world.”

The question “What is God calling us to do in the world” loomed large in my mind.

Would it help us to live into Jefferson’s vision of Christianity and church: “the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death.”

Would conversations related to this question help ‘unstick’ congregations who are unsure about change?

Would this practice help us remember God and make it easier to accept God’s invitation to remember Christ through our actions?

Would beginning each church meeting by asking this question help us, as people of faith, make it easier for us to live into God’s Mission? Would this one question help us to remember – and maintain clear focus – on God’s call for us to “go forth in the name of Christ. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Let us bless the Lord.”

I invite you to think about this resolution – and these questions – and share your thoughts with other congregational leaders.