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Tales from two cities

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins talks about his advocacy work during Monday’s edition of Between Two Pulpits

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins is associate director for Advocacy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) . (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — For their guest on Monday’s edition of Between Two Pulpits, Dr. Bill McConnell and Lynne Foreman engaged the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, someone with one foot solidly in each of two ministries.

Hawkins, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s associate director for Advocacy, directs both the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York and the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. McConnell is the interim director of Special Offerings and Foreman is mission engagement advisor for the Northeast Region.

Click here to watch the 20-minute talk in which Hawkins, who two months ago published his first book, “Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America,” discusses how Presbyterians can more effectively do the advocacy work that’s closest to their hearts.

For openers, Foreman asked Hawkins to identify what’s on the front burner for each of the two ministries he leads.

“What’s on everyone’s mind is Ukraine,” Hawkins said. The work surrounding Russia’s invasion of its neighbor includes praying and working with the U.S. government to help end the war. Domestically, the Washington office is also working on voting rights and environmental protections, among other initiatives, he said.

Hawkins said the PMUN “is one of the least-known offices we have.” Its two-person staff works with mid councils “so they can know the level of engagement” and how they can weigh in on matters the United Nations is considering. The PMUN is celebrating the just-concluded 66th Commission on the Status of Women, an online event that featured daily worship and workshops.

“It’s intriguing to note how engaged the Church really is,” McConnell told Hawkins. “I know you regularly send out Action Alerts,” urging Presbyterians to pray, engage and write to their legislators about important developments or proposed legislation. McConnell asked: “How do those come about?”

“I’m glad you asked that. It’s a major piece of our outreach to the Church,” Hawkins replied. In each Action Alert, OPW provides Presbyterians with a template that takes them to a screen they can use to directly communicate with their member of Congress, either on the House or Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.

“If it’s something that happened quickly, like the war in Ukraine, we ask Presbyterians to pray for peace and we wrote a prayer,” Hawkins explained. Action Alerts “are often reactive, but they are also on pending legislation,” in which Presbyterians can ask their legislator to support or not support a bill currently under consideration in committee or coming to the floor for a vote. Sign up to receive updates and alerts from OPW by clicking here.

Online Compassion, Peace & Justice training is set for April 19-20, and Ecumenical Advocacy Days will be held online April 25-27, Hawkins noted. The earlier event is for Presbyterians only. “A big benefit is the chance to talk to Presbyterians in different congregations in different regions of the country,” Hawkins said. Among the focus areas will be poverty, voting rights and racism. A common bit of feedback heard during past training sessions, Hawkins said, is, “That’s something I hadn’t thought of. That might work well in our congregation.”

McConnell said in past years he’s participated in both events. “It’s amazing to get the group of Presbyterians together and feel that Presbyterian energy, then to expand it to an interdenominational and even interfaith venue for Ecumenical Advocacy Days,” McConnell said. “It’ll be exciting to see what comes from that.”

Hawkins has just returned from Kansas City, where he preached for three services at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, and picked up on energy throughout the area around issues including immigration and voting rights. During each of his three sermons Sunday, Hawkins took the point of view of three of the major figures in the lectionary reading, John 12:1-8 — Mary, Martha and Jesus. “We all come from our own vantage point,” he noted, but ultimately “we want to have the vantage point of Jesus,” whom we note during this week leading up to Palm Sunday “was on a frightening journey that is kind of like the Christian journey,” Hawkins said. “There are times we are called to speak out and take chances. This is a frightening time to have a prophetic voice” when the voices that promote violence “can be so consistent. But we must have a line in the sand so we can say, ‘You stepped over this line and now I have to address this issue.’”

“Where are we on this journey with Jesus?” Hawkins asked viewers. “It’s frightening, but it will change our lives.”

Foreman asked Hawkins the standard concluding question for Between Two Pulpits: What is your hope for the future of the Church?

“We have to continue to have hope, no matter how tragic life may appear,” Hawkins answered. “We are people of hope, and we are the hope of the world. No other institution brings what we bring to the lives of people,” namely, “that God does not leave us in times of despair.”

The image of following Jesus along his journey “calls us to love people who can be difficult to love,” Hawkins said. “The good news is still good news, and we need to proclaim it as consistently and loudly as possible.”

“I am hopeful for the church,” he said. “I am convinced it has something to offer that you can’t find anywhere else. There is something miraculous that happens when you come together in spiritual assembly.”

Hawkins said during his time in parish ministry, people would tell him they were praying for him daily. “That was encouraging,” he told Foreman and McConnell. “My hope is that the church becomes a vibrant institution in the country once again.”

Between Two Pulpits airs at 1 o’clock Eastern Time on Monday afternoons. The interviews are posted here.

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