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Self-Development of People National Committee meeting looks to the future

Members say they’re ready for a new beginning

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

SDOP Coordinator Alonzo Johnson discusses his vision with the SDOP National Committee. (Photo by Rick Jones)

LOUISVILLE – In the first full day of their meeting last week, members of the National Committee on the Self-Development of People threw the word “new” around quite often. During an opening Bible study, SDOP Coordinator Alonzo Johnson and Committee Chair Rebecca Reyes referred to Isaiah 43:16-21. In the scripture, God speaks of not dwelling on the past, but instructs followers to move forward.

As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) looks ahead, Johnson and Reyes encouraged committee members to do the same.

“God is always doing something new. It’s in the newness or stepping out of our comfort zone that we discover something new about ourselves, whether it is fear or our values,” said Reyes. “It’s in that recognition, that we see God is doing something new.”

Johnson told the group part of that involves informing the church as a whole about the work in which SDOP is involved.

“How do we get SDOP’s work back into the consciousness of the church?” he asked. “We must look at how we can be an integral part of racial reconciliation, unity, engaging with community and proclaiming justice ever so loudly.”

New committee member Phyllis Edwards says SDOP must look at this as a new beginning.

“It is a brand new day, one that we’ve never seen before. It’s not only new, it’s rare, it’s outside of what the mainstream is doing and is characterized as brave and unique,” she said. “New things don’t seem common as a rule. Anywhere that you seek newness, people may struggle.”

 Since its inception in the 1960s, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People has provided funding for nearly 6,000 community projects in 67 countries. The national committee is looking at ways to provide ministry and support at a time of shrinking financial and human resources.

“The issue is doing something new and when change is involved, it is going to be stressful and could be lonely or controversial. Whatever it is, you will have doubts and anxieties and that is the human condition,” said Committee Member Pat Osoinach. “God is there and can provide comfort, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have the anxiety. God never said it would be easy, but says ‘I will be with you on the walk.’”

Committee Member Lawrence Low says the church can always learn something new and should be looking to a younger generation for fresh ideas.

“The change I have experienced has come from young people because they are not afraid to experiment,” he said. “We should look at projects coming to us from young people and we should be more open to that.”

In addition to Edwards, the national committee also welcomed two new members; Susan Dobkins of Tacoma, Washington and Karen Brown of Baltimore, Maryland.

“As a grant maker and someone who focuses on grassroots initiatives, joining the national committee is a natural next step in my work. My life has taught me that change is always going to happen and I’m not flustered by change,” said Dobkins. “SDOP is nimble and can get in at the grassroots level as the vanguard of funding for organizations in need.”

“I’ve been an advocate for SDOP since 1992,” said Brown. “Becoming a part of the national committee was a natural next step for me. It’s an extension of the work I’ve been involved with in my own community.”

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