Fighting poverty and hunger

Convention commits total support to Millennium Development Goals
June 30, 2006

The Episcopal Church took a bold step in the campaign to rid the world of hunger and poverty. In a ringing endorsement of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and the ONE campaign, General Convention promised total support – political, spiritual and financial.

The budget for the next three years makes the “goals” – which also address health, education and the environment – the top mission priority. It pledges more than the requested 0.7 percent of the church’s income and “no less than an additional $900,000 … for work that supports the implementation” of the MDGs.

“This is really a movement of spiritual transformation,” said the Rev. Michael Kinman, director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, the organization that has been promoting the movement within the Episcopal Church. “This is not just about us being the body of Christ and going out to save the world. This is recognizing that Christ is out there in the world … That 0.7 percent provides fuel for common mission, for places where we can go and meet amazing people who bear Christ to us in ways we can’t even envision right now.”

So far, 71 of the church’s 110 dioceses have signed on to work toward the MDGs, Kinman said during an early hearing at convention. “Incredible in three years, but we want to get every diocese of the church on board.”

They may succeed. Convention made the MDG effort the major emphasis for mission, evangelism and advocacy over the next three years, calling on every diocese to establish a global reconciliation commission to mobilize Episcopalians. It urged each diocese, congregation and parishioner to give 0.7 percent of their income to work that promotes the MDGs by July 7, 2007. And it designated the last Sunday after Pentecost or days designated ecumenically as special days of “fasting, prayer and giving toward global reconciliation and the Millennium Development Goals.”

Convention also endorsed “The ONE Campaign,” a national effort calling on the U.S. government to spend, annually, an extra one percent of its budget to combat global poverty, to “make poverty history.”

Support for this evolving effort came from many quarters. The official Youth Presence made the U.N. goals its top priority and spoke up for them in several settings. Teens and young adults from Brazil, Palestine, England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa joined their U.S. counterparts at hearings about the MDGs.

A clearly moved Tiana Morel from the Diocese of the Seychelles in the Province of the Indian Ocean addressed the first hearing.

“It is not enough just to be a role model … but also to put pressure on decision makers and government leaders,” she said through tears. Taking a deep breath, she continued, “Our duty toward the world is to ensure that the work we undertake to achieve the Millennium Development Goals builds on human rights.”

Visualizing poverty

Reminders of the need were everywhere. A demonstration just outside the convention center drew mothers from around the country. More than 100 women read Good Night Moon in unison to focus attention on the importance of maternal health. Each held the photograph of a child. One by one they dropped out, leaving behind the pictures, a poignant symbol of the 500,000 mothers who die in childbirth each year.

At noonday prayer in the House of Deputies, a chaplain asked those gathered to snap their fingers every three seconds to drive home how many children die each day because of extreme poverty.

In the exhibit hall, at the Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation booth, volunteers built a cross out of 10,200 popsicle sticks, giving visitors a visual image of just how many children would die that day between the time of the opening Eucharist and the 6 p.m. adjournment.

Then, on day of her election, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave the movement a boost when she said in her first remarks as presiding bishop-elect: “My passion is for mission because I think that is how we build the reign of God. The Millennium Development Goals give us an image, an icon or a lens for how we can build the reign of God in our own day. They’re achievable. They are achievable in less than 10 years if we can commit as nations and communities and individuals across the world to do it. That is remarkable! It’s the first time in history when we have been able to say that it’s possible to make poverty history.”

‘Our church needs this’

“The amount of money is really not the issue,” said John Hammock of the Diocese of Massachusetts during the initial hearings. “Our church needs this movement as much as the people overseas … Jesus Christ is calling us to do this.

“We are the wealthiest country in the world,” said Hammock, former executive director of Oxfam USA and now board chair of EGR. “If we just give .7 percent, I think we are missing it. This is a movement to radically change the United States … and people who have a lot so that people who have a lot begin to say, ‘What are we doing with it? What is the purpose of our lives?’

“I think we are at a moment in history… We all need to seize it, from liberals to conservatives to those who have no political ideology. We need to get people on board with this. Not just to give money but to give ourselves and to have the spiritual renewal that we need to call ourselves Christians.”