A new justice ministry in Wyandotte County has a name, a lead organizer and a list of two top priorities.
Organized by Direct Action & Research Training, or DART, the group — which includes 13 churches, four of them United Methodist — conducted its first Community Problems Assembly on Dec. 9 and selected its permanent name as Churches United for Justice.
The group also selected its top two priorities: Affordable housing/homelessness and violent crime.
During its Zoom call, the group also met the new lead organizer, Amber Adams. Adams is a Kansas City, Kansas, native, and a graduate of Sumner Academy who attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Benedictine College.
“I have a big strong public health background, but in that time, I was here in Wyandotte County doing a lot of social justice and health equity reform,” Adams said in an interview following the meeting. “That’s kind of my big passion area.”
Adams officially began work Dec. 15.
“I think it can make an amazing difference,” Adams said of DART. “We all know that community change takes quite a while for you to see feasible results, but the way the DART Center operates, they actually have a diagram of how their work goes, and it’s great they have a formal, organized way of how to address community leaders. I think it’s great multiple people can come together through multiple initiatives.”
The Rev. Andy Frazier, pastor of Bonner Springs and Edwardsville UMCs, was selected as co-president of Churches United.
“I don’t think we could be more excited than we are,” Frazier said, adding he was looking forward to justice ministry work. “A lot of us good mainline United Methodists do a lot of mercy work. We have our food pantries and those really good things we do at our churches and love it.”
The Great Plains Conference Council on Finance and Administration voted in 2019 to fund $2.1 million for the Doing Justice Initiative, which includes working with DART for projects in Kansas and the Western Organization of Research Councils, or WORC, for projects in Nebraska.
Frazier said he was impressed with DART’s plan of action and recommendations for each place it serves.
“The thing that’s amazing about it is it gives tangible, practical ways that you can address things that seem way too big to address as a local congregation,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of excitement around the possibility to help our county better reflect the kingdom of God.”
During the first half of 2022, teams of people will research possible solutions to the problems selected, and by the summer, a gathering called the Nehemiah Assembly will bring a planned 1,000 people from Wyandotte County together to discuss solutions to those problems.
“That’s what turns from some big aspirational thing that doesn’t have much of a face on it, to giving us something that’s proven to have helped in other places,” he said. “With one voice, we can raise the solution that we’ve come to.”
The Rev. Sarah Marsh, mercy and justice coordinator for the Great Plains Conference, said she was impressed that 101 people attended the Community Problems Assembly.
“For 100 people to show up and conduct interviews and get facts off the ground, it’s going to make for a really strong process with that many brains and hands helping. They can be bringing that back to their congregations and helping share what’s going on in their research,” Marsh said. “It was a ‘knock it out of the park’ event. To get 101 people there was really great.”
Marsh said she was pleased at the selection of the top two problems in Wyandotte County.
“I feel like the first issues they selected of affordable housing and homelessness and violent crime will be really impactful,” she said. “It’s to see what people want to work on, need to work on.”
She was also anticipating great work from Adams.
“I’m super-excited we’re able to get her on board right now,” Marsh said.
Neighboring Johnson County is making progress with its DART initiative, which it has named the Good Faith Network.
During the past six months, 65 small listening sessions were conducted across 19 different participating congregations in the county.
“We talked about ‘What keeps you up at night?’” lead organizer Aileen Ball said. “What do you see happening in this community that makes you angry or offends your sense of fairness?”
At its Community Problems Assembly on Nov. 8, the Good Faith Network selected its top two priorities: homelessness and mental health.
On Dec. 7, its research kickoff began, with two teams conducting interviews with local leaders and experts. Ball said the group also will look at cities that have “cracked the code” in working toward homelessness and mental health issues.
It will have its Nehemiah Gathering with elected officials in mid-2022.
Ball began working as the lead organizer in Johnson County in June, after four years at the Lawrence-based Justice Matters, where she was on the executive board and a past co-president. A member of Lawrence First UMC, Ball is a former higher education project manager.
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