When I was first consecrated a bishop, I was invited by Jim Curry, Suffragan of Connecticut, to join Bishops Working for a Just World (BWJW). BWJW is a loosely organized group of bishops who meet to educate themselves about social change and social justice and who meet each year with our legislators in Washington. The group was formed sometime in the 1990’s and the visits to Washington began four or five years ago. The staff of the Office of Governmental Relations in Washington has provided significant support for our work.
This past week I had the opportunity to make my first visit to Washington as a member of BWJW. Also present were Bishops Curry, Andrus (CA), Beckwith (Newark), Chane (Washington), Singh (Rochester), and Sutton (MD). We met at the Washington Theological Union, a Roman Catholic continuing education facility near Tacoma Park, MD.
Our first day and a half were spent with Mike Gecan, lead organizer for the Industrial Area Foundation, which organizes communities to advocate for justice around the country. The IAF works with churches and faith-based groups in its work. We talked a lot about relational organizing, an approach to community organizing which begins with face-to-face meetings with individuals in the community to learn about the community and determine the most important issues for the community. The process then engages in education and training to address the issues, and then moves into focused action for justice. The process reminded me a lot of our normal practices in relation to pastoral ministry in a parish. The training was very helpful.
Following Mike Gecan’s presentations, we spent time with DeWayne Davis, Mary Getz and Ana White of the Office of Governmental Relations to prepare for our visits to Capitol Hill. Congress is in the midst of intense debate about health care reform, so much of our attention was focused on that issue and the resolutions adopted by General Convention this past summer. But we also spent time talking about immigration reform and global warming.
Wednesday was our time on Capitol Hill. Our headquarters for the day was the Office of Governmental Relations on the third floor of the United Methodist Building, which is directly across the street from the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Members of the Office accompanied us on our various visits.
I had the good fortune to meet directly with Senator Susan Collins. I thanked her for her work on health care reform and urged her to support the full inclusion of all Americans in the final bill. We talked together about the coarse nature of the current debate, and our desire to help people engage in civil dialogue.
I also met with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. I told her that the Episcopal Church had voted in favor of single payer reform this past summer. She supports that option as well. It does not look like that option will be in the final bill, but we agreed that the key issue is universal health coverage.
I was unable to meet with Senator Olympia Snowe, but I did meet with her legislative aides for health care reform and the environment. Again, I thanked Senator Snowe for her brave work on health care reform. The legislative aide for the environment was very interested on our work in our congregations to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint.
Congressman Mike Michaud was on the floor voting on an education amendment when I called on his office.
It was a good few days. I was very impressed by the warm welcome I received from each of our legislators. It’s clear that they are very interested in hearing from constituents and from communities of faith. I was also deeply impressed by the effective work of our Office of Governmental Relations and the expertise of the staff. It’s very important that voices of the faith community be heard in the public square.
Click here for a story from Episcopal News Service about the Washington trip