St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Vacaville, California is engaging in a unique collaborative Lenten program with other progressive Christian congregations in the city, during this Holy season.
St. Paul's, Epiphany Episcopal Church, and Amistad UCC (a house church) are pooling resources to focus on policy issues relating to hunger and poverty, both locally and globally. It began with a meeting in which Father Steve Leonetti of Epiphany, the Rev. Sandy Gess, pastor of St. Paul's, and Marian Conning, pastor of Amistad, sketched out plans for a simple collaboration (ideas included round-robin "moments for mission," shared newsletter articles, and submitting an article to the local newspaper) and the program evolved from there.
"I am excited about this collaborative effort between our congregations. It is a wonderful witness from our progressive congregations who have been serving the profound needs of this community for decades," says Gess.
Each congregation is involved with an anti-poverty policy organization:
· Amistad focuses on Jubilee Debt Relief and the work of the Jubilee Network, http://www.jubileeusa.org
· Epiphany has participated in the ONE Campaign's work around the Millennium Development Goals, http://www.one.org/
· St. Paul's has celebrated Bread for the World Sabbath, http://www.bread.org/
Conning notes that while the organizations have much in common, each has a particular emphasis or theme that differs from the others. Thus, she says, "Their advocacy and lobbying work has the potential for enormous impact on both local and global poverty.
"I am convinced that the work of local soup kitchens (e.g. Epiphany's Community Meal) and food pantries (e.g. the St. Paul's Outreach Pantry) must go hand-in-hand with a broader focus on advocacy," she continues. "Hunger and poverty in Vacaville is not unrelated to hunger and poverty in Haiti, Gaza, or Somalia. If we all sold our houses and cars and gave away all our possessions to the poor, I'm afraid that the money would soon be gone and the poverty would remain.
"Addressing policy issues, though, has the real capacity to effect change," she emphasizes.
On Sunday, March 22, at noon, St. Paul's will host a potluck lunch and panel discussion about the history of social justice ministries in Vacaville. Leonetti will share information about Vacaville Community Housing and Epiphany's Community Meal Program; members of St. Paul's will talk about the church's Food Outreach and Thrift Shop; and Conning will share about Amistad's activism.
Gess says, "This will be a good opportunity for us to network with members of other progressive Christian congregations in Vacaville."
On Friday, March 27, at 7 p.m., the pastor and members of St. Paul's UMC will attend the weekly gathering at Amistad (the house church meets at 735 Brookside Drive, Vacaville, CA 95688. Call 707-488-5415 for more information). A light supper will be provided and Gess asks St. Paul's congregants to plan to make a donation. There also will be an Agape Meal. The St. Paul's contingent will share information about Bread for the World, a "collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad," as well as other food-related programs with which they've been involved. Amistad, in turn, will share some information about its work with the Jubilee USA Network.
"Jubilee, Bread for the World, and the ONE Campaign are a 'holy trinity' of policy and advocacy organizations seeking an end to hunger and poverty around the world," Gess says. "As each of our congregations focuses on the work of just one of these organizations, our ministries are complementary and mutually supportive."