The Connecting Council learned that the Doing Justice Initiative that it recommended in the fall had been approved for funding, and it authorized money for grants for South Korean pastors during a special meeting conducted via Zoom video conferencing software Dec. 19.
The two items were part of a short agenda meant to help the Great Plains Conference conclude its business in 2019 by addressing issues that couldn’t be concluded during the group’s October in-person meetings in Topeka.
The council learned that its recommendation from October regarding the Doing Justice Initiative had been approved by the conference’s Council on Finance and Administration. CF&A agreed to use $2.1 million of its unrestricted reserves over a five-year period beginning in 2020 to fund the initiative. This project — aimed at community organizing and teaching churches how to get more deeply involved in justice ministries in their mission fields — involves partnerships with the Direct Action and Research Training (DART) Center and the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). Both organizations have extensive track records in recruiting and mobilizing faith-based communities to address serious problems in their cities, towns and counties. Money from the conference would be used as seed money to launch community-organizing groups in targeted parts of Kansas and Nebraska.
During the October meeting, the Rev. John Aeschbury, executive director of DART, explained that his organization focuses largely on urban and suburban areas. Four lay people from Topeka and Lawrence shared with the Connecting Council about how DART-affiliated groups in their communities — Topeka Justice Unity & Ministry Project (JUMP) and Justice Matters in Lawrence — helped address issues ranging from affordable housing to gun violence to payday loans to the availability of mental health resources.
DART will start by setting up operations in Johnson, Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties in Kansas and Lancaster County in Nebraska from 2020 to 2023.
Meanwhile, WORC focuses mostly on rural matters, John Smillie, the organization’s executive director, told the Connecting Council in October. WORC will start its first organizing group in Nebraska and eventually would launch one in Kansas over the five-year period.
In both cases, DART and WORC start with one-on-one interviews to determine interest and to identify potential subjects for their efforts. And they recruit ecumenically minded, faith-based organizations to assist in contributing additional funding. In both cases, the topics to be addressed are selected on a local basis and not dictated by DART or WORC.
CF&A considered the Connecting Council’s October recommendation and discussed possibilities for disruption because of challenges facing The United Methodist Church. But the Rev. Zach Anderson, chair of CF&A, said the committee ultimately decided it was best to focus on ministry in Great Plains communities and to adjust as needed when a better picture of what the future of the denomination looks like. Terms of the agreement with the two justice-oriented organizations are being negotiated, including requirements of termination of the contract and other aspects that may be impacted by decisions of the upcoming 2020 General Conference.