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

Georgia churches advocate for housing and health care

Presbyterians for a Better Georgia addresses systemic poverty with state legislators

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

“I always see people in our congregations eager to do some kind of service with our neighbors. Their first thought is often that that’s meeting a basic need, some sort of hands-on giving someone food or drink or clothing or shelter,” said the Rev. Rebekah LeMon, senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “But we have to ask ourselves, as people of faith, why our systems don’t allow everyone to have food, clothing, shelter and welcome.” For the past six years, LeMon has served on the board of Presbyterians for a Better Georgia (PBG). “Advocacy is the way we try to create systemic change that would better support all of our neighbors.”

Members of PC(USA) churches met with Georgia state legislators at Presbyterians for a Better Georgia’s Lobby Day on March 5. (Photos by Rich Copley)

PBG is a partnership of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and one way that the presbytery lives out its Matthew 25 mission to address systemic poverty, structural racism and congregational vitality. For almost 30 years, PBG has been bringing churches together to determine a faithful response to state legislation and to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable in Georgia. As an organization, PBG operates year-round, gathering to discuss issues and potential legislation with lawmakers in the fall, conducting online advocacy trainings at the opening of the legislative session in January, and meeting for the annual PBG Lobby Day in March to speak in person with lawmakers at the Capitol in Atlanta when important votes are being cast.

For the past seven years, PBG has raised funds through partner churches to hire a part-time public policy advocate, which gives Presbyterians more access to lawmakers at crucial moments, such as during committee sessions when essential decisions are made. PBG’s leadership can then respond with social media and email campaigns to its members to contact their legislators as certain bills come up for discussion.

“Our member congregations are not homogeneous. They’re different sizes. They’re located in different communities. And they’re not all theologically or politically homogeneous either,” said the Rev. David Lewicki, pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, and member of the PBG board. PBG engages in non-partisan public policy advocacy and currently centers its work around housing and health care as these issues align closest to the concerns of their member congregations and the needs of the neighbors they serve whether they be in densely populated urban areas like downtown Atlanta or further out in smaller communities like Duluth, Stone Mountain or Stockbridge, Georgia.

At right, Nikki Turner of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, Bill Humphries of Morningside Presbyterian Church and the Rev. David Lewicki of North Decatur Presbyterian Church meet with Georgia House Rep. Dewey McClain.

“All of our congregations that are participating joined voluntarily. All of our members contribute financially to our work. They help to contribute money that supports our lobbying. And they also contribute in terms of their volunteer support and their leadership gifts,” said Lewicki, who explained that the organization would like to grow beyond the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta to strengthen connections to other presbyteries and their voice at the Capitol. “We hope to grow as an organization; the larger we are, the more congregations that are connected and affiliated, the stronger we are as a presence at the state Capitol,” said Lewicki, who looks forward to the day the PBG advocate can go to the Capitol and say, “I represent 50 congregations across the state.”

In addition to reaching out to other churches and presbyteries in Georgia, the board members of PBG want to encourage presbyteries across the nation with their model of collaboration, training and advocacy and hope others will reach out to learn more about their model as they consider how to address structural and systemic issues on the state and local level.

Georgia House Reps. Betsy Holland and Becky Evans, both PC(USA) members, introduce members of Presbyterians for a Better Georgia seated in the gallery to the state assembly.

“Presbyterians for a Better Georgia is getting right at the heart of the issues around poverty by seeing those who don’t have what they need when it comes to housing and health care,” said the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, who attended PBG’s Lobby Day on March 5 and was encouraged by all the people who showed up. “Even if your church isn’t a part of it, you know that this exists within your presbytery,” said Brooks-Johnson, who noted that when the word went out about Lobby Day, “folks came far and wide.”

“It brings me so much joy as an executive presbyter to know that our congregations are working together,” said Brooks-Johnson, who added, “this is also part of what it means to be vital,” as she described the impact of lifting up many voices to speak on behalf of others. “We’re excited to be able to support this as a place where people can put their faith into action.”

Video and photography by Rich Copley, Alex Simon, Beth Waltemath, and Mark Maguire. Story editor, Beth Waltemath. Video editor, Alex Simon. 

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.