In ‘State of the Union’ season, UCC series examines state of things that also matter
In America, it’s State of the Union season. And in the United Church of Christ, it’s something similar.
A new webinar series — on the state of issues that matter — kicked off Jan. 26 on Zoom and YouTube. First up was “The State of the Children.” Coming episodes in the series, dubbed “The State of the Matter,” will focus on creation, poor people, Black and brown bodies, the church and more.
A new U.S. president will soon give Congress his view of the state of things. UCC advocates see hope for new, humane policies in 2021. But that’s no reason to get comfortable, said the host of the online series, setting the tone for what’s to come.
“My hope is not in the White House,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC associate general minister. “It never has been. … My hope is in God, and my commitment is with the people. And I hope that we as people will not abdicate our responsibility to make this nation what it can be.”
The opener featured the UCC minister who heads the Children’s Defense Fund. Quickly renaming his episode “The State of Our Children,” the Rev. Starsky Wilson detailed the challenges children face and what churches can do to help. A recording is available now on YouTube.
‘Commit to the whole child’
If the first episode is any indication, The State of the Matter will offer more than just facts, figures and policy proposals. Wilson cited plenty of those, on child poverty, housing, health and incarceration. And he urged people to look for more of them in a “State of America’s Children” report, to be posted in February.
But he also pressed questions of faith.
He shared, for example, the fates of young adults he had baptized as children. One, despite good mentoring, is now “caught in the context of a criminal legal system that was built to engage and entrap him from the very beginning.” Wilson invited church people to ask whether their rituals, Christian education programs and structures “have anything to say and anything to do with the state of our children” in society.
If so, he said, “We must commit to the whole child, even in the face of segmented systems.” He named three such systems, each caring for separate aspects of children’s development:
- K-12 education;
- Juvenile justice; and
- Foster and adoptive care.
“We have never built a system for the flourishing and well-being of children,” Wilson said. “This is a crisis of imagination for American government that can only be conjured, that can only be filled, by those who see a vision that is greater than that which is before us.”
That’s one role for the church, he said — “that creative, that disruptive work of re-imagining.”
‘Who makes your heart sing?’
The church can cast that vision at all levels, Wilson said — in the congregation, in the community, in public policy. And in doing so, it should consider not only the whole child, but:
- “Every child, and not just all children.” This, he said, means noticing different needs of different populations when offering help and setting policies. The census will likely show 2020 to be the first year when more than half of U.S. children were people of color. “Because the majority are children of color, we must not use a universalist brush in the context of a white dominant culture.”
- “Each child.” “‘Every child’ calls us to consider differentiating among groups based on social location. ‘Each child’ calls us into reflection on the one child who makes our heart sing.”
He invited people to take up that spiritual practice: “to center, and to see the face of that child.” “Who is that child that makes you delight, that makes you flutter a bit? Because that is the one that will keep you in the fight.”
What churches and individuals can do
Actions that churches and members can take came up in the webinar and its “chat” and “Q&A” boxes. Among them:
- Hosting Freedom Schools. It’s the 25th anniversary of this CDF program of summer and after-school enrichment. Wilson mentioned a new “licensing and partnering model” for congregations and other organizations. Already a proven way to “catch up children on learning,” he said it may have special value after a year of pandemic-disrupted schooling.
- Advocating COVID relief. Wilson noted CDF’s analysis of President Biden’s relief plan. “You can engage your legislators and push them to turn the proposal into policy and legislation that actually gets passed.” And beyond that, he said, aspects of the plan — such as child allowances — ought to become permanent.
Wilson pointed out that it’s traditional for presidents to tell Congress, “The state of the union is strong.”
For the webinar audience, he modified that theme. “The state of our children is not strong,” Wilson said. “The state of our children is not weak. The state of our children is in your hands.”
The State of the Matter schedule so far includes these live webinars (times and registration links will be posted at the UCC “Events” page):
- Thursday, Feb. 4: The Rev. John Dorhauer, “The State of the Church.” Serving his second term as UCC general minister and president, Dorhauer also chairs the National Council of Churches. The NCC representative from the AME Zion Church, the Rt. Rev. W. Darin Moore, will join him. (NOTE: This new date differs from one announced earlier.)
- Thursday, Feb. 18: The Rev. William Barber II, “The State of Poor People.” Barber, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, is national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
- Tuesday, March 2: The Rev. Jim Antal, “The State of Creation.” Climate activist and author Antal, a retired UCC pastor and Conference minister, serves as a special advisor on climate justice to the UCC general minister and president. (NOTE: This new date differs from one announced in the Jan. 26 webinar.)
- Date TBA: The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, “The State of Black Bodies.” Brown is dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at UCC-related Union Theological Seminary and author of the 2015 book “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.”
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