Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Philly's Got the POWER!

Wow... I've had a real busy start to my second year at seminary.  Now that things have slowed down (a bit), I hope to write a few posts about what I've been up to.  What follows is the first and it will also be published in LTSP's The Seminarian.  Thanks for reading!

Early in the twentieth century, around 1901, Methodist pastor and composer Charles Albert Tindley wrote a hymn that would later evolve into one of the organizing songs of the American civil rights movement.  You may have heard of it... it was “We Shall Overcome.”  Over a hundred years later on September 25, 2011 the same organizing spirit was alive and well at Rev. Tindley’s old church at the founding convention of POWER (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Power and Rebuild).

As part of my field site placement with Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of PA I was lucky enough to attend the POWER convention that afternoon, and I’m very grateful I did.  On my way down to Tindley Temple United Methodist Church I expected a typical sort of organizing meeting with a typical sized crowd, but boy was I wrong!  Nearly two thousand believers from churches, mosques and synagogues all over Philadelphia were present.  Scanning from the upper balcony of Tindley Temple I saw folks of every age, race and economic class in community together, organizing for economic justice in the city of Philadelphia.

As I learned throughout that evening, Philadelphia is in desperate need of such justice.  As you read this article a quarter of our city’s residents face food insecurity.  Philadelphia has a 10.8% unemployment rate with over 40% of its adults no longer even in the work force.  Of those who have jobs a further 40% have incomes that fall below the federal poverty level.  At the POWER convention one woman, Kathleen Elmasry, spoke of her struggles to find a job in such a difficult environment.  Kathleen was laid off over sixteen months ago after working at the same orthopedics office for thirty-four years.  Since then she’s applied for over 1,200 jobs and hasn’t even been offered a single interview.  Now nearing the end of unemployment insurance, she recently began selling jewelry to make ends meet.

That night, I was blessed to witness the fruitful efforts of many different faiths coming together to organize in support of people just like Kathleen. POWER has made a specific goal of bringing 10,000 new jobs to Philadelphia by 2016.  Councilman Bill Green spoke at the event and put forward one idea to meet that objective. The city is planning a multi-billion airport renovation and Councilman Green suggested that at least half of the jobs coming from that project should go to Philadelphians.  Mayor Nutter, not willing to make any specific commitments, gave a less encouraging speech.

Regardless, it was a great privilege to see the Spirit at work amongst the people gathered for the POWER founding convention.  Inspired by word, prayer and song, I left knowing so much more about how advocacy and organizing are important aspects of the baptismal call to serve one’s neighbor.  It is also important to mention that many LTSP students, faculty and alumni were at the event.  If you’re interested in finding out more about POWER, check out their Facebook Page or their national affiliate’s website at www.piconetwork.org.

God's peace,

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