The New Northeast

tracking the Spirit in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine

Talking about poverty in Maine

by the Rev. Chick Carroll (with help with his fellow sponsors of Resolution #9)

At this year’s Diocesan Convention, delegates will be asked to vote on Resolution 9. This resolution says that for 12 months, for the calendar year 2013, every meeting of a commission or committee within the Diocese and within every congregation will have as part of its agenda the following agenda item:

“How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?”

This Resolution 9 implements a similar resolution passed at General Convention this past summer. Now, resolutions, identical to our Resolution 9, which will implement what was passed at General Convention are being put before diocesan conventions this fall throughout the Episcopal church.

This is not a resolution to end poverty! In fact, it is not even about poverty per se. It is about people–people who live in poverty. This is about people, not about a concept. There is a huge difference between thinking about the concept of poverty, which can sound awfully political or coldly abstract, and thinking about people who live every day in poverty. Jesus was poor, a poor man oppressed in a world of Roman power. Jesus spoke as a poor man, to the poor, about their lives, about being poor, and about what awaited them in the Kingdom. It is the people who live in poverty, as Jesus and the multitudes did and still do, that are the object of the question we are to ask at every meeting. We often forget  that Jesus was a person who was poor. And this Resolution 9 is how we relate, as a church and as individuals, to people who are poor, as he was.

Some of us may be unaware of just how many people in Maine live in poverty. Federal guidelines say that living at the poverty level in Maine, for a family of 4, is living at an income of less than approximately $23,000 per year. Imagine trying to raise a family on that!  Yet, one out of eight people in Maine is in that predicament. One out of every six people we meet lives with insecurity about getting enough to eat. It is much worse for children. One out of every four children under the age of six live in poverty, and half of all school children quality for subsidized school lunches! The brutal truth is that a person getting paid $11.00 an hour 52 weeks a year is still in poverty. And at minimum wage, it requires working 60 hours a week just to achieve the federal poverty level.

Some of us live in communities where we don’t encounter many people living in poverty. Others of us, though, live in places where the poverty rate is worse than the state average–far worse. The reality, of course, is that even at incomes somewhat above the official poverty level, people can still be very poor.  Regardless of where we live, we meet people every day living in poverty- in the shops and stores we buy from, the schools our children attend, the companies we work for, and in our own parishes as well.

Resolution 9 will, at first, create inconvenience. It may make us uncomfortable to ask the question about our impact on people living in poverty. We may argue that asking such a question will be futile, or will take up too much time. Imagine, at every meeting within the Diocese and within every congregation, we will during 2013 ask the question: How does what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?”

For some committees, the answer may be “not very much.” Perhaps then someone might ask “and why not?’ No doubt, some of us may get tired of asking the question at every meeting. Yet, we may also come closer to understanding how we, as church and as individuals affect or relate to people living materially poor lives. We may also learn more about what Christ asks of us. In fact, we may discover that asking this question for a year changes our church, our congregation, and ourselves. Some of  may begin to understand the Gospel in ways we have not been able to before.

Is there anything on our agendas more important than taking a few minutes to discover what our impact is upon our sisters and brothers in Christ, including those people who live, as Jesus did, in a condition of being poor and without power in our world?

14 Comments

14 responses to “Talking about poverty in Maine”

  1. Does this excellent proposed resolution assume that those who will be in these meetings are not themselves “poor”?

    • Carol Huntington says:

      Speaking for myself only, some of those living in poverty I hope will be in at least some meetings of some congregations.
      Sociologically speaking, Living in Poverty is the common thread and threat for so many with whom we serve, regardless of their stated or percieved primary need

    • Mary Lee Wile says:

      We talked briefly about this at today’s clergy gathering: with one in four Maine children living in poverty, we have to know that many of our parishioners — hence, those attending meetings — are among those we are asked to ponder. Resolution 9 is about creating a “habit of mind” that sees “us” not “them” — a habit of mind that recognizes the unexpected ways in which our ministries already “affect or involve people living in poverty” — yes, even (or perhaps especially) the buildings and grounds committees that hire the homeless to tend the grounds and who open the parish hall during the week to a whole host of programs that “affect or involve people living in poverty,” as well as (or perhaps, again, especially) the altar guild, who so faithfully and beautifully tend holy things and set the Table for all who come, no matter economic status, hungry for the love of God in Christ.
      So in answer to your question, this “excellent proposed resolution” in fact assumes that the poor are among us, that many of us who attend Episcopal churches in Maine, do, in fact, live in or close to poverty.

    • Andree Appel says:

      I may be way out on a limb here but I would guess more likely than not, the answer to your question is, “Yes”.

  2. I’m happy to see this is a point of discussion during the convention. Ministry, as I see it, is about the person next to you in the pew. It’s about awareness. As important as it is to be aware of global poverty, the reality is there is alot of poverty and suffering in our neighbors and yes, the person next to us in the pew. Poverty is something that is so little talked about(though more so than used to be) and needs to be constantly in the forefront of our attention. Thank you for doing so at the convention. -Susan L. Charle

  3. Peggy Day says:

    I would like to ask a question for us in thinking about this resolution. the question is, what is the worst that can happen if we were, for a year, to begin each meeting with this agenda item ?

    • Mary Lee Wile says:

      The worst? It might make us squirm. It might extend meetings by a minute or two — or longer if people really got into it.

      What is the best that could happen? Our eyes and hearts and minds might be opened to what already we do, to what we might be called to do, in conjunction with our brothers and sisters, often our fellow-parishioners, living in poverty.

  4. Sheila Seekins says:

    Thank you for raising these issues: of including “the poor” as part of “us”, and listening to the voices of the parts of us who are materially poor, that their voices will be part of “our” meetings, shape “our” prayer and reflections and decisions and actions. My hope is that those parts of “us” who are silenced, will be “heard into speech” that “we” may be more whole, more fully live into and reflect the Kindom of God. I hope to witness more gifts of God’s varied people expressed, set free from cultural and material oppressions for the sake of reconciliation.

  5. bdhamilton63 says:

    Thanks Heidi for your good words. I live in a town where we served 5500 meals during our summer feeding program to children who would otherwise have gone hungry or had poor nutrition. It’s not just In Haiti that children go hungry when they are not in school.

    Are there some tools available, such as fact sheets on poverty in Maine that we can perhaps use to keep us grounded in the realities you talk about here? Our congregation learned in church last week that the food pantry we help to support has gone from serving 11 families a week three years ago, to 150 families (over 250 individuals) every week. Information like that or sharing stories from our communities can keep us from slipping into the abstract as we ask the question.

    Thank you for reminding us that Jesus Himself was poor. Not something I often think about.

  6. audrey delafield says:

    Thank you, Chick, for that wonderful piece. I have been thinking a lot about this resolution and have already found myself becoming more aware of the poverty that we see everywhere ( yes,even in Cape Elizabeth) and thinking HARD about what I and my congregation can try to do about it. Surely a few extra minutes at each meeting may get all of us into a “different habit of thinking” and may make us more aware of the tragedy of the growing number of poor people in our midst (and beyond). I hope the Convention will look at this resolution very seriously, and with great excitement!

  7. The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt says:

    A good question. The Alcoholism and Substance dependency committee looks at one of the issues underlying poverty. When someone spends money for a drug or substance they use money from a low income or obtained illegally rather than for their families and food, shelter, and the like. Education and recognition of that problem can be important to helping solve it.

  8. The Rev. Robert W. Landry; Dcn says:

    I would like to say that we must bring this to mind everyday. If we don’t ask ourselves, how is what we are doing affect or help those in need, then are we doing ministry or are we doing administration? I know that many times in our vestry meetings we talk about all the items on an agenda that have to do with the financial aspect of the churches life and who is checking the lights and doors next week. And on an occasion when a little extra money appears we find a good cause to give it to, but I don’t ever recall us asking ourselves this question which is being asked of us at this convention. When ever I give a message to my congregation, I am sure to include myself in the question, and I asked this one frequently, How are we doing ministry outside the walls of our church, for the sake of the poor, homeless, and less fortunate than ourselves. Hurray for this resolution; maybe we can make the comfortable, uncomfortable and those in need may be recognized and offered a hand of love. I am not saying we don’t but how many times do we find out later or too late that someone had a need and it was never provided. As I said it is time for the whole church to get uncomfortable and focus on the needs of the world.

  9. Andree Appel says:

    I think that this is a wonderful start to what Mary Lee refers to as a “habit of mind”. Poverty is too often an abstraction, not a reality, for those of us who do not have to worry about what groceries we are putting in our shopping carts or how we will ever get a job without a car. Like all awareness, it is a start….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *