Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

‘Faith gets lived out in the world’

Presbyterian Hunger Program Coordinator the Rev. Rebecca Barnes is the guest on ‘Between 2 Pulpits’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — In turn, the Rev. Rebecca Barnes attended seminary, became a pastor and, in 2017, was named coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Growing up with both parents serving as Presbyterian pastors and engaging and fun community activities including CROP Hunger Walks helped steer her toward the significant work she’s been doing for the past seven years.

“I always held” to the notion that “faith gets lived out in the world and our religious convictions should lead to a better world around us,” Barnes told the Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson and Katie Snyder during a “Between 2 Pulpits” podcast episode that dropped last week, available here.

Wilkinson, director of Ministry Engagement and Support, said much of the work the PHP and other ministry areas put in “is converting those impulses” of direct service into “more long-term” systemic reforms — working on the root causes of hunger even as, for example, a congregation offers a free weekly meal to anyone in the community who needs it.

Barnes cited two specific ministries that are working to cut away at the root causes of hunger and poverty. Based in Western North Carolina, BeLoved Asheville “does some distribution to make sure people have what they need,” Barnes said. “But they’re also building community and people power, so people learn skills to advocate for polities.” BeLoved Asheville has a food truck it takes to various Asheville neighborhoods. “They create the table around which people gather, break bread and share stories,” Barnes said. “BeLoved Asheville is a partner I get really excited about because they’re putting their hands and feet into the community and embodying the fight for food justice.”

Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities uses the Congregation-Based Community Organizing model to uphold the rights of mobile home owners. Barnes said she’s learning the unhelpful impact that zoning laws can have on a community. “In a lot of neighborhoods, you can’t have multi-family units, tiny homes or mobile homes built,” she said. “That really furthers the racial wealth gap and economic inequality.”

PHP is “also walking alongside partners thinking about how environmental damage and climate change affect hunger,” Barnes said. In Yemen, where 17 million people potentially face severe hunger because of a civil war, a PHP partner “has done cool training of households to supply them with economic development tools,” Barnes said, including sewing machines, cameras and phone repair tools people can use to start a microbusiness.

“We’re just grateful when we get to learn alongside people what works in their community,” she said.

The Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson

Noting the Matthew 25 Summit that was held in January, Wilkinson asked Barnes about how building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty “come together in your work.”

“We know that there’s a need for movement-building and for empowering people to speak,” Barnes said. “Something like that can energize a congregation and give it a sense of vitality, because you’re going beyond the core group in your own church that cares about these things and all of a sudden, you’re building relationships in your state with people who also care about these issues. That can build a sense of your church’s relevancy and connection to the larger community issues.”

“When you’re looking to undo structural racism and attack systemic poverty, you’re really looking at a lot of the same things when it comes down to it: minimum wage, access to jobs and health care, transportation and education, and safe places for children to go,” she said. “Churches going down the route of understanding poverty pretty soon discover, ‘Oh, that is connected to racism. Let’s learn about that.’” She said PHP has connected with the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and World Mission “to help bring education and advocacy efforts to the church to address all of these, because they’re all connected.”

Katie Snyder

Snyder, the project manager for digital fundraising and interpretation in Special Offerings, asked Barnes about ways congregations “who have a passion” can also get involved in the work.

“It’s hard work and it’s long work,” Barnes said. “Don’t try to do it alone. We’re built for relationships.” It’s important to recruit “a core group of people” so that “it doesn’t rest on one person.”

In addition, churches can look to ecumenical and interfaith organizations — and secular groups as well — to “take a turn to breathe and rest.” Most of all, “be honest about what gifts and passions lead your church,” she advised. If the church identifies strongly with worship, “bring those elements in.” If the church “loves adult Sunday school or a speaker series, go there and look for community leaders who will do interesting talks.” If it’s children’s ministry that a church does best, “there are fun and interesting things you can do with children and youth in these ministries.”

With the support of generous gifts including One Great Hour of Sharing, the Presbyterian Hunger Program shared more than $1 million last year “with communities all over the world that are doing these creative, amazing responses to hunger,” Barnes said, as well as provided resources for preaching, teaching and advocating for change. “We’re just so grateful to have the support of One Great Hour of Sharing,” she said. “All the presbyteries and all the churches that participate in that” exhibit “huge strength that shows our solidarity with people in communities all around the world.”

When Snyder asked Barnes about her hope for the church, Barnes started with developing an understanding “that we have a unique role and responsibility in caring for God’s Creation and all the people in it” and to “also know we’re to do all the work humbly, following the lead of those who are the most impacted, the most vulnerable and the most oppressed. They are the ones who know the best solutions for helping care for God’s Creation and vulnerable communities.” That work can be done in partnership “whether or not they’re Presbyterian or even Christian.”

“That’s my hope,” Barnes said, “that in this time of change and perhaps another Reformation in the mainline Christian church that we can continue to have hope and build relationships and learn that unique role we can play in creating a more just and peaceable world following the Spirit’s lead as we walk alongside siblings who are suffering.”

Other editions of “Between 2 Pulpits” can be heard here.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.