by the Rev. Chick Carroll (with help with his fellow sponsors of Resolution #9)
At this year’s Diocesan Convention, delegates will be asked to vote on Resolution 9. This resolution says that for 12 months, for the calendar year 2013, every meeting of a commission or committee within the Diocese and within every congregation will have as part of its agenda the following agenda item:
“How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?”
This Resolution 9 implements a similar resolution passed at General Convention this past summer. Now, resolutions, identical to our Resolution 9, which will implement what was passed at General Convention are being put before diocesan conventions this fall throughout the Episcopal church.
This is not a resolution to end poverty! In fact, it is not even about poverty per se. It is about people–people who live in poverty. This is about people, not about a concept. There is a huge difference between thinking about the concept of poverty, which can sound awfully political or coldly abstract, and thinking about people who live every day in poverty. Jesus was poor, a poor man oppressed in a world of Roman power. Jesus spoke as a poor man, to the poor, about their lives, about being poor, and about what awaited them in the Kingdom. It is the people who live in poverty, as Jesus and the multitudes did and still do, that are the object of the question we are to ask at every meeting. We often forget that Jesus was a person who was poor. And this Resolution 9 is how we relate, as a church and as individuals, to people who are poor, as he was.
Some of us may be unaware of just how many people in Maine live in poverty. Federal guidelines say that living at the poverty level in Maine, for a family of 4, is living at an income of less than approximately $23,000 per year. Imagine trying to raise a family on that! Yet, one out of eight people in Maine is in that predicament. One out of every six people we meet lives with insecurity about getting enough to eat. It is much worse for children. One out of every four children under the age of six live in poverty, and half of all school children quality for subsidized school lunches! The brutal truth is that a person getting paid $11.00 an hour 52 weeks a year is still in poverty. And at minimum wage, it requires working 60 hours a week just to achieve the federal poverty level.
Some of us live in communities where we don’t encounter many people living in poverty. Others of us, though, live in places where the poverty rate is worse than the state average–far worse. The reality, of course, is that even at incomes somewhat above the official poverty level, people can still be very poor. Regardless of where we live, we meet people every day living in poverty- in the shops and stores we buy from, the schools our children attend, the companies we work for, and in our own parishes as well.
Resolution 9 will, at first, create inconvenience. It may make us uncomfortable to ask the question about our impact on people living in poverty. We may argue that asking such a question will be futile, or will take up too much time. Imagine, at every meeting within the Diocese and within every congregation, we will during 2013 ask the question: How does what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?”
For some committees, the answer may be “not very much.” Perhaps then someone might ask “and why not?’ No doubt, some of us may get tired of asking the question at every meeting. Yet, we may also come closer to understanding how we, as church and as individuals affect or relate to people living materially poor lives. We may also learn more about what Christ asks of us. In fact, we may discover that asking this question for a year changes our church, our congregation, and ourselves. Some of may begin to understand the Gospel in ways we have not been able to before. Is there anything on our agendas more important than taking a few minutes to discover what our impact is upon our sisters and brothers in Christ, including those people who live, as Jesus did, in a condition of being poor and without power in our world?