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Jubilee Officers, friends of Jubilee convene in Kentucky for work, study, networking

August 2, 2011

Thirty Diocesan Jubilee Officers and other friends of Jubilee Ministry gathered at Cathedral Domain camp and conference center in Kentucky July 6-9 for three days of service, networking, idea-sharing and grounding in the theology of Jubilee.

Jubilee Officers and friends of Jubilee gathered at Cathedral Domain in Kentucky.

“The work of ministry in the church is happening mostly in obscure, dark places that most people don’t see,” said the Rev. Chris Johnson, Social and Economic Justice Officer for the Episcopal Church, explaining why the gathering was held where it was – a site far removed from population centers – and why one full day was dedicated to laboring among the people of Appalachia. “Yet that is as important to the church as what happens in high visibility public places. I am intentional about wanting us to take on some hardship to get somewhere. I want the church to know that Jubilee Ministry is willing to do the work that others may pass by because it’s hard and unnoticed.”

An Appalachian primer

Rev. Gordon Brewer, executive coordinator of Episcopal Appalachian Ministries, introduced participants to the history of Appalachia and shared stories of what life is like for residents. The region continues to have pockets of poverty as persistent and devastating as anything found in urban America, he said.

The 205,000-square mile region, which includes parts of 12 states plus all of West Virginia, was first settled by Europeans in the early 1700s. Most were Scots/Irish from the Ulster Region of Northern Ireland who immigrated to the New World to escape the British crown. They brought with them a deep-seated independent spirit and a mistrust of government, Brewer said.

Many also brought with them the whiskey-making skills of the Scotch. It proved a profitable enterprise, and selling corn in its liquid form proved an efficient use of resources.

Following the Civil War and the rise of the Industrial Revolution, Appalachia was the world’s leading source of raw materials, including timber, coal and iron ore. “The resources were extracted with little regard to the land and the environmental impact,” Brewer said. “Industrialists from the northeast began buying up land and mineral rights all over central Appalachia, which created the downward spiral into poverty for many Appalachians.”

Today, much poverty persists in the region, despite the industriousness of its people. Poverty rates are around 18 percent for the region, though they approach 50 percent in some counties. In 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, roughly one in three families in Appalachia lived in poverty. Education and literacy rates remain lower than the national average, while rates of chronic health care conditions including diabetes, obesity, cancer and respiratory ailments are higher than average.

The faith of many people living in Appalachia tends toward fundamentalist conservative, which poses a challenge for the Episcopal church, Brewer said. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “Working with the Appalachian people is as simple as developing a relationship with them. The key is to find out what it’s like for them, listen to their stories.

That’s precisely what participants did the next day: Participants drove to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Outreach Mission on Barnes Mountain. There, they broke into teams to spend the day hanging siding, repairing gutters and painting.

Theology of Jubilee

Dr. Edmund Desueza and Dr. Judith Jones led discussions about the theology of Jubilee.

The Rev. Dr. Edmund Desueza and the Rev. Dr. Judith Jones led participants through three sessions on the theology of Jubilee, centered around crisis and transformation: crisis and transformation in the world, in the church, and in Jubilee Ministry

“The church has moved from a position of power to a position on the margins” said Jones. “There’s been a tremendous change just in the last five or six years in the attitudes of young people toward the church. One can no longer assume that kids will grow up and attend the church their parents did. We can see this as a crisis, or we can see it as an opportunity to think different about the role the church plays. Will it be a voice from a position of power, or a voice from the margins?”

With that in mind, participants looked at some key passages from the Gospel of Matthew: Matthew 6:1-34, Matthew 22:15-46 and 23:1-36, Matthew 24:36-51 and 25:1-46. The first of these readings speaks to the reign of justice; the second to ambiguity in the proclamation of the reign and in the practice of justice; and the third to the effort to proclaim the reign and to

remain faithful in practicing God’s justice.

“What does it say to us when we no longer speak from a position of power, but instead speak from outside, with the voice of outsiders?” Jones asked

Chris Johnson challenged participants to see how the crisis in the institutional church parallels the challenges being faced by Jubilee Ministry. “Jubilee Ministry has a mandate to work with the poor and oppressed everywhere,” he said. “It’s not a mandate to create more institutional ministries. It’s about helping move people in the pews to make connections between their piety and their neighbor.”

Unfortunately, said Johnson, almost immediately after Jubilee Ministry was authorized by the 1982 General Convention, the church began to institutionalize it. “We stopped pointing to what was going on in individual parishes, and began taking work off the back of the local congregations. We began pointing back to the larger institution.”

“But the reality of the church today is that we’re de-centralizing. In Jubilee Ministry, we spent 30 years building up something that’s not sustainable,” Johnson said. “There’s no future for Jubilee Ministry if it’s all about what happens at the corporate headquarters of the Episcopal Church. Instead, I’m inviting YOU to own it,” he told the DJOs.

Ideas for supporting local Jubilee Ministry

Clara Gregory, DJO for the Diocese of New Jersey, and the Rev. Becky Jones, DJO for the Diocese of Colorado, invited participants to think strategically in six areas about concrete ideas for supporting their local ministries.

Clara Gregory

Those six areas:

  • Publicizing the work of Jubilee to the larger church;
  • Facilitating networking among individual Jubilee Ministries and between the Jubilee network and other social justice groups;
  • Funneling information out to local ministries about grants, training events, etc.
  • Engaging in public policy advocacy, and empowering Jubilee Ministries to also engage in this work
  • Educating congregations about Jubilee
  • Creating a Jubilee Ministry presence at diocesan conventions.

Jones is collecting samples of presentations, sermons, news stories and other tools that DJOs have created and are willing to share with others, and will put together a “DJO Tool Kit” that all DJOs may access.

In addition, Johnson distributed a flash drive to all participants containing a variety of resources, including:

  • the text of all the General Convention resolutions since 1982 that relate to Jubilee Ministry
  • a sample DJO letter of agreement with a diocese that can serve as a template, and that spells out typical expectations.
  • Some theological background papers on Jubilee, including an article Johnson wrote for the Fall 2010 issue of Anglican Theological Review.
  • Some liturgical resources, including a liturgy commissioning a new Jubilee Ministry, and a Eucharistic service for the installation of a DJO.

All these resources as well as the new material that will be added to the Tool Kit will be made available on the Jubilee Ministry website: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/jubilee.htm

Future plans

Here’s a roundup of other upcoming items of interest,

The next DJO gathering: Johnson hopes to schedule the next DJO training conference in the fall of 2012, possibly at Koinonia Farm, a no-waste Christian farm community founded in Americus, Ga.

A number of DJOs present volunteered to help plan that gathering, including the Rev. Madeleine Beard (Maryland), the Rev. Clelia Garrity (Nevada), the Rev. David Andrews (Delaware), Roger Stone (Montana), the Rev. Cindy Nawrocki (Western Michigan) and Jubilee Advisory Committee member Dianne Aid (Olympia). Advisory Committee member Nell Bolton (Louisiana) will help create a Survey using Survey Monkey to guide planners in providing information that most DJOs would find helpful.

General Convention in Indianapolis in 2012: Johnson also announced that Jubilee Ministry will have a booth at the 2012 General Convention next July, and he invited all those interested in promoting the work of Jubilee to drop by. He said he expects convention delegates to introduce some sort of resolution recognizing the 30th anniversary of the creation of Jubilee Ministry. Garrity, Aid and Beard all agreed to serve on a committee to help draft other possible Jubilee-related resolutions.

The next round of grants: Johnson said he will continue offering $1000 diocesan initiative grants. All that’s necessary for a diocese to claim one is to submit an application, signed by the bishop and the DJO, briefly explaining how the money will be used to promote the work of Jubilee. The deadline for applying for the Diocesan Initiative grants will be Oct. 1.

In addition, another round of Food and Nutrition-related grants of $750 will also offered to fund small food-related programs, including Jubilee community gardens. Deadline for those grant requests will also be Oct. 1.

Johnson said he’ll also make available $1,000 grants to fund summer reading camps and summer camps for children of incarcerated parents. Finally, funding for six more Asset-Based Community Development workshops, featuring ABCD Institute trainer Mike Green, is also available. Applications for these grants will be due by Dec. 30.

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