Local Ministries

Faith communities organize for social justice concerns

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Archdiocesan Catholics are joining with others of good will to act in the spirit of the Psalm that says: “Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy” (82:3).

Pastors and laypeople from parishes in Wyandotte and Johnson counties will participate in two “Rethinking Justice” workshops. The goal is for participants to becoming active in two faith-based advocacy organizations, yet unnamed, that were formed in January 2020 to address social justice issues.

The workshops, which are ecumenical and interfaith events, will be held via two Zoom video conferences: one from 6-7:45 p.m. on May 11, or an alternate 6-7:45 p.m. on May 13.

Representatives from at least 65 faith organizations — parishes, congregations and synagogues — are expected to participate. The workshops are free and open to whomever wishes to attend, but participants must register (see registration information below).

The workshops will introduce the goals and methods of these organizations to lay leaders, so they can get involved and promote them in their own faith communities.

The events are being sponsored by the archdiocesan office of social justice, the Central States Synod for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Great Plains United Methodist Church Conference, the Kansas Episcopal Diocese and the Kansas City Jewish Community Relations Bureau.

The workshops have three objectives, said Ben MacConnell, event coordinator and a member of Justice Matters, a faith-based advocacy organization in Lawrence.

“[The first is] an exploration into the biblical call for justice,” said MacConnell. “The second, helping participants understand the difference between doing justice and providing mercy or charity . . . and the third, to demonstrate how congregations can successfully do justice when they come together.”

Most of the workshops will consist of presentations, but there will also be opportunities for participants to break out into small groups to discuss what they have heard, and then rejoin the larger group to report on their discussions.

Workshop presenters include Bishop Ruben Saenz of the Great Plains United Methodist Conference; Bishop Cathleen Bascom of the Kansas Episcopal Diocese; Father Greg Hammes, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe; and Doctor Jason Thompson, pastor of the First AME Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

“This an opportunity for pastors, who have been meeting in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, to build an organization like Justice Matters in their communities,” said MacConnell. “This is an opportunity for [pastors] to include their lay leaders as an introduction to justice ministry.”

Like JUMP (Justice Unity and Ministry Project) in Topeka and Justice Matters in Lawrence, the new organizations in Wyandotte and Johnson counties will be affiliated with the DART (Direct Action Research Training) Center, a national network of faith-based community advocacy organizations with affiliates in nine states.

The effort to establish organizations in Wyandotte and Johnson counties began the United Methodist Great Plains Conference, said Bishop Saenz.

“In 2019, our Justice and Mercy group brought forth the need for community- based organizing assistance. And at that time, we met with WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils) and DART,” said Bishop Saenz. “Both directors met with our annual conference. And they laid out a proposal where we could start community-based organizations in our urban areas.”

The United Methodist Conference decided to join with other faith communities in Wyandotte and Johnson counties to create DART-affiliated organizations.

Father Greg Hammes was involved with JUMP as pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. Like the program there, the organizations in Wyandotte and Johnson counties will organize people of faith through their communities to first identify local issues, research solutions and advocate for solutions. The goal is to make communities more just.

“Usually [the organization advocates] for one issue a year,” said Father Hammes.

The solution to the identified problem, he said, is often discovered in the way some other community has already addressed it and it has proven to work.

“And then we have to work with local government and other stakeholders to make it happen [here],” he said.

This fall, the workshop participants will lead members of their faith communities in a series of house meetings where community issues will be raised.

In November, the representatives of the faith communities in Wyandotte and Johnson counties will hold assemblies, where they will decide on the names of their organizations and their priority issues. The organization staff, clergy and lay leaders will then conduct intensive research into those issues and develop solutions.

Father Hammes said Catholics should get involved.

“Justice is part of our faith,” he said. “It’s a biblical mandate. We’re called to make this world a better place and to love our neighbor. And we can love our neighbor who is hurting by doing mercy ministries by alleviating that pain in the moment, and by making the world a better place so they don’t hurt in the first place, by changing the way things work — our systems.”

Register to participate

The Rethinking Justice workshop is free, but you must register to participate:

• May 11, 6-7:45 p.m.; go online to: bit.ly/rethinkingjustice

• May 13, 6-7:45 p.m. (alternate session); go online to: bit.ly/rethinkingjusticeworkshop

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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