Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Church Participation (Chapter 7)

This is a hard chapter for me to read. I have always attended church - from a a child singing in the children's choir to being an acolyte and youth group until college when I heard my first woman preacher and contemplated my own calling (I grew up Catholic and am now United Methodist). I love the tradition of the eucharist, the beauty and power of Scripture and the stories of Jesus, and the fact that so many of the older hymns are sung across denominations. There are things that we assume are universal, but this chapter makes me question how many of the "universals" truly are?

Culture of churches varies from congregation to congregation, even within denominations but the cultures of poverty and middle class are more different than we typically consider. The opening story of Jesse coming into a church - I've seen that scenario played out in my own churches. Very few, if any, people in the congregation are comfortable just walking up to someone they haven't seen before and welcoming them. Is it fear that holds us back? Do we know what we're afraid of? We know that Jesus calls on us to be hospitable to those that are ostracized elsewhere but when it comes down to actually DOING that, it's difficult.

I went to seminary (though I knew my call was not to be a pastor) and have many clergy colleagues and I'm talking with them more these days about the cultures of their congregations and how a stranger in their midst is treated. How does your congregation react when someone new comes in? Does it matter what they're wearing? What color their skin is? If they walked or not? No judgement - just honesty. We're all trying to be good followers of Christ and we all fall short, but this chapter encourages us to look at the ways we've set things up, creating barriers that we probably didn't intend.

If someone walks into your church with a real need (spiritual, physical, or social), what opportunity would they have to express that need? Do you make it easy for them to ask for what they really need? Are you equipped to meet those needs? Do you know where else they might go to meet those needs? If they can't express their needs, for whatever reason, are you able to offer them anything without them asking? If we truly want to offer hospitality to ALL people, these are challenging questions. And we if we claim to work with the poor and disenfranchised, they are important questions to ask and answer.  Happy conversing!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Money Matters

I find it a bit ironic that I am writing about the Money, Stewardship and Spending chapter.

Personally, I have struggled with money throughout my life. Growing up in a lower middle class family, we did not have money in savings, if we even had a savings account. As a first-generation college student, I borrowed every dollar I could, not thinking about the fact that someday I would have to pay it back (something I am VERY familiar with at this point). When I got my first car, I also borrowed outside of my comfort zone. In fact, there were times into my early 30s that I still had to call my parents for help paying a bill or even getting enough money to buy food.

It wasn’t until I started working as a fundraiser, and eventually in leading a non-profit in New York City, that money took on a new value in my life. As I began to find joy in giving to others and supporting causes that were important to me, I wanted more ability to give freely. As I became accustomed to putting money aside, my view of money began to shift.

Realizing that at some point I wanted to buy a house and start a family, I knew I had some work to do to pay off debt and start saving for my future. The first few years of what I like to consider as “my journey to financial maturity” were filled with many mistakes. I read about budgets, took workshops, opened a saving account, and even explored investing. Sadly, I failed at most (ok, all) of these thoughts – and continue to fail on some to this day.

As a community of faith, or as a community in general, we have the ability to help people living in poverty understand other ways to view money; however, we have to be cautious. Our systems, from tithing at church to building our credit, are built outside of those in living in poverty.

It can be hard to imagine not having a checking account. It can be difficult to imagine having to pay a bill late because payday came too late. Talking about money is often uncomfortable, but today, as you read this blog and explore the questions at the end of Chapter 6, seriously look at the role money plays in your life. 

Beau Heyen is President/CEO of Episcopal Community Services in Kansas City, MO.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Violence & Conflict Resolution

"For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."     ~ Galatians 5:14-15

The Golden Rule. Many of us learned it as kids and know that hurting someone else often means getting hurt ourselves - either from the process we use to inflict hurt on someone else (I hurt my hand when punching them) or because they retaliate (they punch me back). Violence and vengeance is a theme in a lot of movies, literature, and even popular music. We cheer for "superheroes" who fight "villains," and cheer for the underdog to beat the bully, but in these venues who is "good" or "right" is often clearly spelled out, where in real life we don't know always know which side is "good" or "bad" - it often comes down to who we know and the perspective of the story we're told about how the conflict began.

Chapter 4 of WECMSKAP helps us understand the role of violence and methods on conflict resolution for those living in generational poverty. Knowing that I don't come from a background of poverty, this chapter is hard for me, especially as I'm a seminary educated Christian who claims the label of "pacifist." And that's okay. It need to be hard for me - because understanding other people and learning how to truly be hospitable to those that are different isn't easy. It's easy for me to say that fighting is wrong when I've never HAD to do it. It's easy to preach pacifism when we're not living in a war zone or literally fighting over the last of the food without knowing where the next meal might come from. Fighting is about survival - being strong enough to beat out the competition for whatever precious resources there are. I've been surrounded by everything I need, and many of our churches, if we're honest, have too. We don't have to fight, but that's not the case of some people in our own communities. If we truly want to minister to all people from all backgrounds, how do we reconcile their NEED to fight with preaching the Great Commandments? The story at the opening of the chapter breaks my heart - that a boy trying to do the right thing is confused and gets in trouble for not being the man that can take care of his family. 

This idea of a man as a lover/fighter isn't new and isn't confined to men in poverty. Masculinity can be boiled down to this notion at its core - the man is the provider. That may be provider of food, provider of money and all the things that money can buy, or it could be provider of safety by fending off others. If a man cannot provide, he often loses his sense of self. What makes him important? What makes him count? What kind of masculinity does Jesus model? Is there a way to preach that without putting down those that HAVE to fight for survival? 

I'd like to think that if I were the pastor in that opening story, I'd be thrilled that Quinton took my sermon to heart. I'd also like to think that the family would talk with me about this situation or that I would hear about it at some point and get to talk with Quinton about how to handle the bike scenario in a way that doesn't diminish his mom's confidence in his ability to survive and take care of others while still being true to Christianity. What might that look like? 

Our apologies for the late posting of this blog post. We should be back on regular schedule with postings on Sundays and Wednesdays, starting tomorrow with a post for Chapter 5 on families and relationships by Rev. Stan Runnels of Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in KCMO.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Language Patterns

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. ~ 1 Cor. 2:1-5

How much importance do you place on the words and speech patterns that people use? For me, I know that I rely a lot on this. In a previous life, I worked as a 9-1-1 call taker and police dispatcher in a suburb of Oklahoma City. One of the things that eroded at my spirit while I worked there was the way I was encouraged and even trained how to make assumptions about people and situations. It was a necessity to some degree; when you're getting information from someone on the phone, the way they talk can tell you a lot about where they come from, how they're feeling, etc. - often more helpful information than the words they're actually using. And it may have influenced what type of personnel I sent on that call.

When it comes to language in writing, I find that I've done much of the same in a different role - as someone who screening job applicants. If someone didn't spell correctly or answer questions coherently, I would remove them from consideration - and writing may not have been a part of the job (cashiering in a retail store, for example). In the first scenario, my judgements gave me information that may have helped us determine how to respond to an emergency,  but the second feels more judgemental and definitely ruled out people who may have been good employees. 

Reading this chapter (Chapter 3 of What Every Church Member Should Know about Poverty), I learned some things about the different registers of language, but it also makes me more aware of the ways that I make judgements based on these things. As a Deaconess in the United Methodist Church, I tend to (intentionally) focus on social justice issues, but I still have to recognize my own growing edges. Acknowledging that "proper English" is a middle-class, educated value is uncomfortable, but I know that I have met some wonderful people who are no less wonderful when they don't use proper grammar. And as a Christian, called to be hospitable and welcoming to all in the way God loves and welcomes all, I would be embarrassed if my church turned someone away for not speaking in "proper English."   I will continue to ponder this and where else I may be making judgements about people based on my own middle class values that aren't applicable to the specific situation. How about you?

Mandy Caruso-Yahne is a Deaconess in the United Methodist Church and currently serves as Director of Community Engagement for Episcopal Community Services in Kansas City, MO.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Hidden Rules

I was raised in a Christian family that was very involved in church activities and worship.  My first outing as a baby was to attend church.  I quickly learned the rules of our church community.  There was a time to be noisy and a time to be quiet, a time to pray, sing, and listen.  There was a time to play with friends and a time to learn about the Bible.  These rules were not written down, they were unspoken rules, taught by adults using rewards and punishment. 

Every church community has unspoken rules that bring order to a congregation.  The rules reflect the doctrine of the church and the dominate economic class of the parishioners.  In chapter 2 of “What every Church Member Should Know About Poverty” we learn more about the hidden rules of the Church and the values that helped develop these rules.  I believe that the Church community has the potential of being a life building force that helps its members to live a meaningful and exciting existence.  Unfortunately, many people are missing out of being a part of a healthy church experience. 

A healthy Church can attract people from different backgrounds and blend people together to focus on their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs.  How do we develop an engaging church community? I think it takes a process of: (1) Identifying the hidden rules of your church;  (2) Expand the rules to include a diverse group of people; (3) Teach everyone the new rules; (4) Celebrate new relationships.   This chapter exposes us to the different values and rules that each person uses to see the world around them.  The values and rules are developed through living life from one of three economic groups: poverty, middle class, or wealth.  As you read this chapter, identify your own perspective and the dominate perspective of your church community.  What barriers (hidden rules) does your church community have that hinder people in poverty to be a part of your congregation? 

In Luke 18: 10-14 Jesus emphasizes the need to be humble in our thoughts and worship.  We all tend to look around and say “God I am thankful that I am not like those people”.  When we become humble and confess our sins, we can truly be in the presence of the Lord.  In God’s presence, we can open our hearts to understand people from different perspectives.  God loves us all!

Barb Andres is the Executive Director of Episcopal Social Services (ESS) in Wichita, KS.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

The time of Lent is upon us. As we share in the remembering of our mortality and call to be something more, something better, we welcome you to this Lenten Study on poverty. Each Sunday and Wednesday we'll be posting a blog written by a leader in one of our two Dioceses. Each blog post will connect with a chapter from the book ad invite us to consider something or wrestle with some questions. You're invited to share comments and questions and use this as a dialogue space.

Today's blog post is for Chapter 1 - Introduction and Overview, reflecting on the book of Job, written by Episcopal Community Services President/CEO Beau Heyen.

I have always been drawn to the book of Job. As a child, my family struggled to make ends meet. Even as an adult there have been times that I experienced hunger and homelessness. Like Job, I have suffered - or at least I have convinced myself that I know what it means to suffer. However, if I am honest, what I have called suffering is nothing compared to others around the world or some of those in my own back yard.

During my time as a professional school counselor in the Hickman Mills School District, located within urban South Kansas City, I was first introduced to the work of Dr. Ruby Payne. As a small-town kid working in a school surrounded by poverty and diversity, I began to realize that my experiences, although valid, were tempered with opportunity and support that many others were not able to access.  Now, as I continue to grow into my role as President and CEO of Episcopal Community Services in Kansas City, I am surrounded by reminders of the privilege and power I was given as a member of the white male working class. 

As we begin the season of Lent, and this study of What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty, I am once again drawn to the story of Job - but in a new, unexpected way. I had always found the interaction with Job's "friends" to be off-putting, but it wasn't until I read the story found in this first chapter that I could wrap my mind around what often caused me to pause.
It is easy for us to tell others what to do or how to feel. It is easy for us to say "have faith" or "don't worry, it will be okay." It is easy to stand behind the walls of our own experience and perception to judge.

Now, I am not a believer in God's "condemnation" and would never be so bold as to think that there is anything I could do to prevent God's grace; however, I must admit that I find motivation in what happens to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in this story.

As we continue this study over the next few weeks, I invite you to remember the story of Job. As you read the pages of this book, reflect on your relationship with the Jobs in your life - your friend, your neighbor, the man on the street, the single mother struggling to provide for her children. Do you default into thinking like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zopher? If so, what can you do to change your inner script to look deeper?

As you reflect on the readings and this blog, please leave comments below so that we can engage each other on our journey to better understanding the impact of class and learn how to move beyond what we once knew to truly work beside our neighbors. 

Beau Heyen is the President/CEO of Episcopal Community Services in Kansas City, MO.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tools for Use & Sharing

Now that we're down to one week until Ash Wednesday, we wanted to share some graphics for you to use to get the word out. Any of the photos in here should be available by right clicking on them and choosing the "save as" option. 

For social media or slide shows, we've got these two options with space left at the bottom to add your local church logo, meeting information, or whatever else is pertinent. 

For those of you who do newsletters and bulletins, here are a couple of blurbs you can start with:
  • As we journey through Lent this year, we invite you to explore what it means to be in ministry with the poor. Join us for our Lenten study as we read through "What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty" at [fill in time and place details]. You can also sign up for the study emails at 
  • Are you ready to think and talk about what our ministry with those in poverty might look like? Join us this Lent for a book study and some great conversation. The book includes a lot of quizzes and discussion questions that are sure to get us thinking. Learn more by contacting [fill in your contact's name and info here].
Anything else that you need or want to get the word out? Please let us know in the comments below!