Presbyterian Hunger Program staff speaks to congregations maintaining vitality by keeping their focus outward
December 5, 2020
Congregations striving to maintain their outward incarnational focus, one of the seven marks of congregational vitality, can thrive for at least two reasons: they’re ministering to others while at the same time being ministered to.
That was one of truths uncorked during a recent Zoom call hosted by the Office of Vital Congregations and featuring the staff of the Presbyterian Hunger Program: PHP Coordinator the Rev. Rebecca Barnes; Valery Nodem, associate for international hunger concerns; Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for national hunger concerns; and Jessica Maudlin, associate for sustainable living and Earth care.
The partners with whom PHP works “are open to visits and to having your young people come out,” Barnes told the nearly 50 pastors and other church leaders on the call. “Our liberation is bound up in one another.”
“(Church buildings) may be closed, but the church never was,” Maudlin said. “We see our faith lived out in places other than the church building.”
Nodem said that although PHP’s international work falls into three broad categories — short-term, medium-term and long-term — the last two categories are receiving the most attention now. Long-term efforts “help us find answers to systemic poverty” in areas including food sovereignty (such as which crops to grow) and land rights. Land grabbing, he said, can turn farmers into laborers. “There’s a lot of corruption involved,” he said.
Bartlett outlined a system that PHP’s national effort uses featuring an easy-to-remember acronym, LAMB:
- Listen to directly affected frontline communities and the groups accountable to them to educate ourselves and other Presbyterians around the country.
- Accompany and encourage Presbyterians to contribute to strategies, campaigns and advocacy efforts based on those frontline perspectives and critiques.
- Mend by returning wealth and opportunities to marginalized communities and groups struggling to build a just and sustainable world free of hunger, poverty, oppression and environmental racism.
- Build by investing in relationships and movement-building to increase the capacity to effect change.
“It’s critical we work together to chip away at institutions and systems that cause unjust outcomes, especially to people of color,” he said, “and build transformative outcomes with them.”
Maudlin said the work includes “our responsibility for stewarding the Earth in its entirety. We help congregations investigate what that means, what inequalities exist, how they interconnect and how they exist in our own communities. We help Presbyterians make informed faithful decisions on how we spend our money.”
“We have to see and be with our brothers and sisters,” Nodem said. “Looking outward is our call, because to whom much is given, much is required.” He said Presbyterians who visit with partners around the world often “get out of their comfort zones. (The partners) see life a lot different than they have it at home.” In his experience, upon returning home, U.S. Presbyterians “are more inclined to see injustice at home. It’s a really good way to open our eyes to what’s going on out there and at home at the same time.”
In the face of the pandemic, “I think this is the time for all of us to remember we are not alone,” Nodem said. “We have been hit hard in the U.S. by COVID-19, but I was a global partner myself (before coming to PHP). The relations we keep in difficult times with our brothers and sisters really matter. … We must stay together and work together as much as possible.”
“There’s no right way or wrong way trying to go about living Christ’s love in the world,” Barnes said. “I really appreciate what you all bring to the table,” she added, referring to the Vital Congregations staff hosting the call, part of a digital series called “For Such a Time as This.”
“As we are truly transformed,” said the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, Vital Congregations coordinator, “being part of these ministries and educating ourselves is critical. We are grateful for this conversation today.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Hunger Program
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Dear God, we pray that all people would share in the abundance of your good Creation. We pray that you make us your disciples — pursuing justice and spreading your love throughout all of Creation. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.