Have you ever gone to Annual Conference and voted "yes" on a bunch of amazing petitions and resolutions that call us to transform the world – only to come home and have it tucked into a short Annual Conference report to your congregation? Have you ever wondered what happens to those resolutions and how they get acted upon?
Well this year, stop wondering and start advocating – especially when it comes to the work of our Mercy and Justice Team. The newly formed team has a fresh plan with the attitude of "let's put these four resolutions that were passed at Annual Conference into action!"
"The Mercy and Justice Team of the Great Plains Annual Conference, among other things, exists to equip and empower local congregations in the work of Mercy and Justice,” said Nancy Brown, an ambassador for the Mercy and Justice team. “Bringing forth and/or supporting resolutions presented to the Annual Conference is one way they can help educate local churches. However, too often resolutions become words in our historical documents, and there is insufficient follow-up. Thus, the Mercy and Justice Team decided that they were the conference team that that could best help by providing an ‘action’ component designed to help local churches take the next steps"
The Mercy and Justice Team has agreed to sponsor Social Justice and Advocacy training with the General Board of Church and Society initiative Healthy Families Healthy Planet. The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project works to mobilize U.S. United Methodists on the importance of maternal health and international family planning. Through grassroots education with targeted annual conferences and advocacy efforts with policy makers, the goal of the initiative is to build a movement of faith leaders within the United States to advocate for higher levels of foreign aid for international family planning through the U.S. government.
“This organization is saving lives. The loss of life to childbirth is decreasing because of this work," said Katey Zeh, director of the initiative. “This happens only through advocacy and action."
Zeh defined advocacy as the “work of organizing people locally and globally in ways that give them a voice while educating and teaching them to educate others about the social need at hand. They feel equipped to talk about the subject and initiate conversations that cause people to get involved in a cause with their whole selves."
I like this definition! It doesn't sound like something I can only do by nodding my head in a pew as we agree "something needs to be done.” It calls us out of the pew to each other.
In the Great Plains Conference, we already have advocates of Healthy Families Healthy Planet who are trained ambassadors who are want to widen the reach of this important work.
Gina Gile, an ordained elder in our conference, shares her story:
“?I first heard of HFHP when I received a Kansas East Conference email communiqué inviting clergy and lay to become ambassadors. The training was in Denver. Maternal health has always been close to my heart since I have my own personal story of an unplanned pregnancy as a college freshman. The choice I made to give up my infant daughter for adoption resulted in much heartache and pain throughout my life. So often choice is not afforded women when it comes to becoming a mother. As a society we may say there are choices but women often bear the sole burden of not only making difficult choices about pregnancy but when a choice is made women are often ostracized and shamed. I experienced it firsthand.
“It has been through my work with HFHP that I have moved from feeling like a victim to becoming an advocate for women. I found my voice. I cannot change my past, but I can work in changing the future for women in the choices they can make when deciding to become a mother or not. I can do that through being an ambassador for HFHP. HFHP has given me the confidence to be a voice for women everywhere. It has also given me the avenue to do so by using my voice to make changes in legislation and systems that create barriers for women and healthy maternal choices in the first place. When women are able to plan their pregnancies it is better for them and their families.
Another great ambassador for the project is Great Plains Conference Lay Leader Courtney Fowler.
"My experience living in South Africa opened my eyes to the reality of children who had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS,” Fowler said. “By focusing on providing reproductive health care to women and mothers, we ultimately help children and babies have a better future.
“Even in the Great Plains, we see a similar need for women and girls to have access to health care,” she continued. “I pray that through advocacy, we can lift up the sacred worth of women, girls and mothers so they can live life abundantly."
Wow! That resolution that was passed this summer seems more personal, more powerful when we hear these stories and the way we can help transform the world by our actions!
So, how do you get involved?
First, as stated earlier, keep an eye out for the work of the Mercy and Justice Team.
"Each resolution will be individually addressed by the Mercy and Justice Team, and it is the hope of the team that local congregations will take advantage of the opportunities provided to them to make a difference while making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," Brown said.
Second, concerning this particular resolution, there are advocacy training events scheduled throughout our conference. You can register at http://bit.ly/HFHPtraining.
Another reminder: This initiative is not just a "women's issue.” This is a human issue, and men as well as women are encouraged to participate.
Third, don't let the annual conference report be the only place this work finds a voice. As local churches, take a moment of mission in the next month to promote this event and prepare make space for the resolution work that the Mercy and Justice Team will continue to organize for our conference. Move beyond the pew.
For more information about the Mercy and Justice Team and/or advocacy training through Healthy Families Healthy Planet, please contact Nancy Brown at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan Todd is the Vital Congregations coordinator for the Great Plains Conference.