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Peace and Global Witness Offering invites support for Freedom Rising


Churchwide initiative seeks to ‘improve the worsening plight of African-American males’

by Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service

Eugene 'Freedom' Blackwell. (Photo Paul Seebeck)

Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell. (Photo Paul Seebeck)

LOUISVILLE – The 2017 Peace & Global Witness Offering includes an opportunity for congregations and mid councils to join a church-wide effort “to address and improve the worsening plight of the African-American male.”

Freedom Rising, an initiative approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), will fund pilot programs that tackle high unemployment, mass incarceration, substance abuse and other problems that disproportionately affect African-American males. The General Assembly action invites congregations and mid councils to devote a portion of the Peace & Global Witness Offering they retain to Freedom Rising.

Congregations keep 25 percent of the offering for local peacemaking ministries, 25 percent goes to their mid councils for similar efforts on the regional level, and 50 percent funds national and international peacemaking ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Gifts to Freedom Rising will support pilot programs in five cities: Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, New York and Pittsburgh. The GA set a goal of $5 million for Freedom Rising.

Presbytery leaders of Freedom Rising say the response may involve developing new Presbyterian initiatives as well as building partnerships with community agencies to strengthen existing programs. Each presbytery will tailor its efforts to focus on local priorities. For example, Pittsburgh is working on mentoring and leadership development programs for African-American boys and young men, while Cleveland is seeking to address structural racism around employment and business opportunities for African-American men.

The GA action began as an overture from Pittsburgh Presbytery, which adopted the overture at the urging of the presbytery’s Black Caucus. The police shootings of black males in Pittsburgh and around the country was the most immediate impetus for the overture, said Johnnie Monroe, retired pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. “The caucus felt the denomination needed to take a stand against the treatment of African-American men by police,” he said.

Pittsburgh Presbytery, he said, initiated a General Assembly overture in 1990 urging the denomination to confront societal challenges disproportionately affecting African-American males. The overture came on the heels of a study that found more African-American males between 18 and 25 were incarcerated than were enrolled in colleges and universities.

While the overture was approved by the 202nd General Assembly, Monroe said “it never took root in the national church.”

This time, rather than make a general appeal for action, the overture identified five cities as pilot programs in order to give focus to the effort, Monroe said.

The initiative bears the nickname of a Pittsburgh pastor who traveled to the Assembly meeting in Portland, Oregon, to advocate for its passage. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell died of cancer just two months after the overture’s passage. He was founding pastor of the House of Manna Faith Community.

“Eugene Blackwell was a friend and inspiration to many. He brought together a coalition of Christians to invest in his community that may never otherwise have worked together,” said Sheldon Sorge, general minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery.

“Freedom maintained great faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to do abundantly above all that we could ask or think. He lived in Scripture, then applied it to the great needs facing his community. He was unafraid.”

Most congregations receive the Peace & Global Witness Offering on World Communion Sunday, which will be observed this year on Oct. 1.

A downloadable bulletin insert about Freedom Rising is available to help congregations and mid councils promote Freedom Rising. Individuals may make gifts to Freedom Rising through the Presbyterian Foundation.

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