Social Justice Agency's Directors Announce Grants, Issue Statements

April 02, 2009

Peace with Justice, Human Relations and Ethnic Local Church grants total nearly $270,000.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In addition to issuing a statement calling for Middle East peace, directors of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) issued a statement at their spring meeting urging the Obama administration not to boycott the United Nations conference on racism. The directors - 60-plus lay and clergy from around the world - also approved grants totaling $268,784 for peace, justice, and human relations ministries.

 

GBCS is one of four international general program agencies of The United Methodist Church. The agency's primary areas of ministry are advocacy, education and leadership formation, United Nations and international affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations in New York City.

 

Bishop Deborah Kiesey, GBCS president, said in her report to the directors that she believes it is the role of the agency "to not only care for the least, last and lost, but to be the prophetic voice that speaks to and works toward changing the very structures that are keeping people 'bent over.'" She called GBCS "that Word of Hope to the world."

 

Jim Winkler, GBCS's chief executive, told the directors that priorities of the United States and every nation need to be reordered "toward human needs and away from greed, to peace and not war." He cited GBCS efforts that contributed to the recent repeal of the death penalty in New Mexico, and helping facilitate nearly 200 prayer vigils around the country for immigration reform. He also described ongoing efforts to reform the U.S. health-care system, and GBCS's advocacy on environmental and economic justice.

 

"Our focus in The United Methodist Church remains putting those on the economic margins at the center of our economic recovery, both in the United States and around the world," Winkler said. He added that it will "require bold global leadership to build a just, sustainable future."

 

Peace with Justice Grants

The Peace with Justice work area approved 28 grants totaling $52,805. The projects went to ministries geographically dispersed, from the Philippines to Mozambique and from Iowa to Jerusalem. The grants are funded by The United Methodist Church's Peace with Justice Special Sunday offering. Recipients comprise diverse ministries, such as to empower women, provide immigrant legal services in Iowa, do justice and peace work in Jerusalem, train election observers in Mozambique, do conflict management and mediation, and carry out a water justice project.

 

The board's Ethnic Local Church grants totaled $185,231 for 13 ministries. Notable among the awards was a grant to the denomination's Hispanic/Latino caucus, MARCHA, for advocacy training related to racism and immigration. Other grants were directed to a seminary program for Native Americans in Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, an African-American Heritage program in New Jersey, and a community garden program by a multi-racial congregation in Chicago.

 

GBCS's Ethnic Young Adult Summer Internship Program also received funding. Last summer the program sent 12 persons to Washington, D.C., to work in social justice-related ministries. The 12 participants came from around the globe, including the Philippines and Africa.

 

Human Relations Day Grant

A Human Relations Day grant for $30,748 was awarded to "Redemption Church," a Tulsa and Oklahoma City restorative justice ministry that incorporates advocacy and reunification of families among its programs. The grant is funded through The United Methodist Church's Human Relations Day Special Sunday offering in January.

 

GBCS's directors award grants in two cycles, spring and fall, in conjunction with their board meetings. Application information is available through the agency's website: http://www.umc-gbcs.org/.

 

The Finance Committee of the Board of Directors reported that the United Methodist Social Justice Endowment Fund had grown to a market value of $47,503 at year-end 2008. This included $28,000 of new contributions last year. The fund was adversely affected by the economic crisis, though, which held gains down.

 

Cost-savings efforts on discretionary expenses, such as travel and supplies, have been held to 2008 levels in light of the economic downturn, according to the finance committee.

 

GBCS is expected to meet its budget despite the downturn because of these measures along with sharing of accounting, financial and human relations functions with the General Commission on Religion and Race, which is also headquartered in the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

 

In other activities during the spring meeting, directors made calls on their members of Congress, hosted a reception in the Cannon House office building in cooperation with Rep. James Clyburn, Majority Whip, and learned about Obama administration plans to engage the faith community. Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff to Valerie Jarrett, assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison, told the directors during lunch on March 20 that what the president wants to achieve "is motivated by his faith, and he's not ashamed of that." He said the faith community has a role to play in the debate over national priorities.

 

Bishop Kiesey urged the directors to review the denomination's Book of Discipline about GBCS's purpose (¶1002). She pointed out that ¶1004 says the board and its executives shall provide forthright witness and action on issues of human well-being, justice, peace and the integrity of creation that call Christians to respond as forgiven people for whom Christ died.

 

"That's an amazing mandate," Kiesey said, "not just for those of us on GBCS, but it is a mandate for every Christian."