GBCS Announces National Grassroots Organizing Team

March 15, 2012

Team will work to build local United Methodist networks to address social justice ministries.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A national team of grassroots organizers has been assembled by the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) to lead a yearlong initiative to empower local United Methodist congregations to address social justice issues.
The new team will work to build strong local networks within the denomination on specific issues, such as reform of unjust criminal justice, immigration, health care systems, and the economy.
Through these networks, local advocates will be able to connect with like-minded United Methodists across the country to collaborate and share resources.
The yearlong organizing program is an expansion of GBCS's grassroots immigration and restorative justice programs. In the past year, for example, five new Rapid Response Immigration Teams were added, raising the count to 41. Six Annual Conferences have committed to a yearlong Immigrant Welcoming Congregation Journey, a training program for local churches.
"We are so pleased to announce our National Organizing Team," said Jim Winkler, GBCS chief executive. "Our grassroots organizers bring a wealth of experience and talent to our organization, along with a deep passion for social justice rooted in the Church's mission. Their ability to connect activists across this country will no doubt strengthen The United Methodist Church's prophetic voice in the public square."
The National Grassroots Organizing Team members are:
Economic Justice
The Rev. Israel Alvaran, San Francisco, California. An ordained United Methodist, Alvaran will concentrate on addressing issues of worker rights and jobs through trainings and coordinated actions.
From the Philippines Conference, Alvaran has served in various ministry settings as pastor, youth minister, and faculty at a United Methodist university and seminary in the Philippines. A longtime activist, he also worked as a social justice advocate for the Manila Episcopal Area, focusing on worker justice struggles.
Prior to joining GBCS's organizing team, Alvaran worked for four years as an interfaith and community organizer in San Francisco, supporting various immigration and labor union campaigns.
Addiction Prevention
Dotti Groover-Skipper, Tampa, Florida. Groover-Skipper will focus on building an advocacy base to support development of public policies to address addiction issues. These include confronting alcohol, tobacco, and gambling industry efforts to loosen regulation – and opposing their marketing to young people.
Groover-Skipper owns a health education company and ministry foundation, both based in Tampa. She is a beginning candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Florida Conference.
Peace with Justice
Pat Callbeck Harper, Helena, Montana. Harper brings to this role more than three decades of nonprofit organizing, advocacy, networking, and leadership development – particularly in United Methodist venues. She is working with coordinators in each Annual Conference to promote celebrations of the United Methodist Peace with Justice Special Sunday. She hopes to bolster awareness of Peace with Justice Ministries throughout the denomination.
Prior to her new role at GBCS, Harper was project manager for the Council of Bishops' most recent pastoral letter and study, "God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope & Action."
Women & Children
Erica Johnson, Des Moines, Iowa. Johnson is tasked with building a national network of United Methodists working to end domestic violence and human trafficking. She brings six years of local and legislative organizing experience on issues of immigrant and workers' rights, domestic violence, and human trafficking to her new role at GBCS.
Johnson's experience includes directing regional organizing with a national legislative campaign, local issue-based organizing, and most recently, advocacy for victims of domestic violence.
Health Care
The Rev. Cynthia Johnson-Oliver, Washington, D.C. Johnson-Oliver will re-launch GBCS's John 10:10 Challenge to build a faithful movement for health care justice. She will help local teams promote, preserve, and implement health care rights for all.
Johnson-Oliver has engaged communities of faith on matters of justice related to health care, disability rights, affordable housing, and child advocacy, as well as voter mobilization during a Presidential campaign.
An ordained elder in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Johnson-Oliver has served in numerous clergy roles and has been a speaker at local churches and national conferences. She is serving on loan as associate pastor of Adult Discipleship at Annandale United Methodist Church, in the Virginia Conference.
Laurie Anderson, Kansas City, Missouri. Anderson joined GBCS last year. She will continue to mobilize the Conference Rapid Response Immigration Teams and be a resource for the Immigrant Welcoming Congregation Journey. Her focus has been to build relationships to sustain a long-term movement to defend the rights of immigrants.
Anderson previously was past national coordinator of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). She continues to work as the director and co-founder of the Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement, an NSM coalition working on immigration issues in the Kansas City Metro area. She is a Presbyterian elder in the Heartland Presbytery and a Midwest Academy-trained organizer.
Restorative Justice
Laura Markle Downton, Washington, D.C. Downton will continue her work at GBCS to strengthen communities of faith engaged in ministries to end mass incarceration, support private-prison divestment campaigns, and promote restorative prevention and alternatives to incarceration.
Before joining GBCS, Downton worked on employment justice and legal services with grassroots organizations in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. She is a Midwest Academy-trained organizer.
Downton is a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Conference Relations
The Rev. Julie Wilson, Washington, D.C. Wilson has been part of the staff at GBCS for the past three years, starting as an intern while studying at Wesley Theological Seminary. She will help the organizing team navigate the United Methodist connection. In addition, she works to link organizers to GBCS educational events and will provide support for organizing special events.
Wilson has been commissioned by the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Nathan Hollifield, Washington, D.C. Hollifield's primary responsibility is to raise the profile of the GBCS national organizers' work by assisting in coordination of media relations and social media campaigns.
His previous experience includes management positions in the corporate sector, as well as with Presidential, Congressional and gubernatorial campaigns. Recently, he's worked with non-profit groups based in Seattle to expand the political reach of interfaith partnerships.
Hollifield is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Pacific Northwest Conference.
The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board's primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.