Arkansas Board of Church and Society, UMFA Hosts Faith Advocacy Training Event in Little Rock

Arkansas Board of Church and Society, UMFA Hosts Faith Advocacy Training Event in Little Rock

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Rebecca Cole, Director of Grassroots Organizing

United Methodists in Arkansas often seek to offer assistance and advocacy for their community, but are many times unsure where to begin or are worried that they do not have the proper resources. A new training event is looking to offer aid to Christians who wish to make real change in their local communities.

The Arkansas Conference Board of Church and Society is hosting a two-day Faith Advocacy Training seminar on Oct. 4 and 5 at First UMC in downtown Little Rock, 723 Center St. The training will focus on teaching participants how advocacy can be rooted in faith, and how they can make their voices heard on the local, state and national levels.

The Rev. Jay Clark, associate pastor at Pulaski Heights UMC and member of the Arkansas Conference Board of Church and Society, said the event came about after the advocacy team for the CBCS realized that although people in churches wanted to make changes in their community, they were ill-equipped to advocate for those changes.

“This gave us a chance to bring in some experts to talk to those interested about what it means to be a United Methodist and stand up for what we believe and work toward positive change,” Clark said.

“We want to look at cultivating change that challenges systems at the root that keep all children of God from thriving,” added the Rev. Haley Jones, deacon at First Church Little Rock. “The General Board of Church and Society is using grassroots organizing as that tool.”

The multi-day event will feature two speakers from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, Rebecca Cole and John Hill.

Cole is the Director of Grassroots Organizing for GBCS. According to her bio, Cole “connects, trains, and equips United Methodists all over the world with the tools to organize for justice in their communities.”

She earned her Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and previously worked for the Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, California, organizing for immigrant rights, and with the Interfaith Council for Economic Justice to work at improving workers’ lives.

“As we see the ongoing challenges facing God’s people and God’s planet, we are grateful that United Methodists in Arkansas are coming together to learn how to put their faith into action and engage systems and policies that create injustice,” Cole said.

John Hill, Assistant General Secretary for Advocacy and Grassroots Organizing Director of Economic and Environmental Justice for GBCS

Hill is the Assistant General Secretary for Advocacy and Grassroots Organizing Director of Economic and Environmental Justice for GBCS. His focus is on educating and leading others in ways to be better stewards of the Earth through environmental justice, and ensuring that “all God’s children have access to sufficient resources to thrive” through economic justice.

Hill is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he received a degree in international affairs. He has also served as a legislative aide in the U.S. Congress and has worked as a lobbyist in the private sector.

The training is a partnership between the Arkansas Conference’s Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, and Clark says UMFA has awarded them a grant to help pay for the event.

“UMFA was a huge help in underwriting this event. Most importantly, it gave us the means to offer scholarships to high school and college students,” Clark said.

Scholarships are available on a first come, first served basis and cover the full registration fee for the event.

Registration for the training is $25 and the fee covers meals, snacks, a T-shirt, and resources for the event. The training will take place from 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 5.

“We all believe in something. For most things, our faith informs what we believe. This training will give us tools we can use in our churches to make a difference in others’ lives for the better.

“Our hope is that you will leave this event with more knowledge about how you can make a difference as a United Methodist Christian,” Clark said.

To register, visit  http://bit.ly/faith-based-advocacy. For questions about the event, contact the Rev. Jay Clark at jclark@phumc.com or the Rev. Haley Jones at hjones@fumclr.org.

Arkansas Conference clergy attend Young Adult Clergy Leadership Forum in D.C.

Arkansas Conference clergy attend Young Adult Clergy Leadership Forum in D.C.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Two Arkansas Annual Conference clergy members recently had the opportunity to attend the General Board of Church and Society’s Young Adult Clergy Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Lauren DeLano, Conway First UMC, and the Rev. Jennie Williams, Highland Valley UMC, joined a group of 50 young clergy from around the world in a forum that helped connect clergy with the mission of GBCS and provide a gathering to share knowledge and experience across Conferences.

“We were with young UMC clergy from all over the world,” Williams said. “GBCS is the advocacy arm of the UMC and this forum gave us facts and tools for how to be pastoral and prophetic as we think about advocacy and activism.”

Left to right: Rev. Jennie Williams and Rev. Lauren DeLano stand outside of the historic United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The forum, which took place Jan. 27 – 30 on Capitol Hill, hosted speakers from inside and outside the United Methodist Church, including author and activist Shane Claiborne, Director of Communications for the Council of Bishops Maidstone Mulenga, and U.S. Senate Chaplain the Rev. Brian Black.

“As we talked about the opportunities for advocacy and solidarity with those in need, I was able to reflect on the ways my local congregation cares for those in our community,” DeLano said. “And the ways we can continue to grow as we not only serve those in our community but intentionally come alongside them as they offer us resources and gifts, too.”

One of the topics of the forum was gun violence prevention. The clergy heard stories of gun violence from laity, gun violence prevention organizers and clergy. The group was then asked to “put faith into action” and were encouraged to visit the Senate Building on Capitol Hill and meet with U.S. Senators about gun violence prevention.

Williams and DeLano were able to meet with U.S. Senator John Boozman’s (R-AR) legislative assistant and said the experience allowed them to have an open dialogue about how their faith informs their views on advocacy.

“As we had this conversation, I learned that being politically engaged doesn’t mean needing to have all the answers or to be an expert on a topic, it just requires the courage to have conversation, knowing that we might not all agree or change minds, but can seek to understand people of different viewpoints a little more fully,” DeLano said.

Williams and DeLano had the chance to visit with U.S. Senator John Boozman’s legislative assistant about various topics, including gun violence prevention.

The General Board of Church and Society is the advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church. Its headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., in the historic United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

According to the 2016 Book of Discipline, the GBCS’s purpose is to “seek to bring the whole of human life, activities, possessions, use of resources, and community and world relationships into conformity with the will of God. It shall show the members of the Church and the society that the reconciliation that God effected through Christ involves personal, social, and civic righteousness.” (¶ 1002)

DeLano said the forum encouraged her to think deeply about her own experiences engaging in her local community, including her state legislature and others that who are justice-minded.

She also felt a conviction to be more courageous in her faith in places that are outside the walls of the church.

“Building relationships and knowing our communities is the basis of much of the work GBCS does. It is also what Christ calls us to, as we trust in him; to be faithful is to move beyond our comfort zones, the boundaries we set for ourselves, and the ideas and expectations we have of who Jesus is and who Jesus is for.”

For more info on the General Board of Church and Society and their mission, visit https://www.umcjustice.org/.