Calling for a just and humane budget

On Wednesday, February 22, Maine Episcopalians and members of eight other faith communities gathered in the Hall of Flags in the Maine State House for a prayer vigil for a just and humane budget as the Joint Committees on Appropriations and Health and Human Serves held a budget hearing down the hall.

Prior to the vigil the Rev. Maria Hoecker, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor, offered testimony on behalf of Bishop Stephen Lane. Bishop Lane had planned to testify but was brought low this week by a respiratory bug. (He’s on the mend!) Hoecker and Rabbi Susan Carvutto spoke before

Photo courtesy of Maine Equal Justice Partners

committee members with 35 Maine clergy standing behind them.

Here is the text of Bishop Lane’s testimony, with details of local impact contributed by Hoecker.

February 22, 2017

Good morning Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services.

My name is Maria Hoecker. I am an ordained Episcopal priest and I serve as the rector of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Boothbay Harbor. I share the following testimony on behalf of The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the Episcopal Bishop of Maine. Bishop Lane intended to be here today, but, due to illness, has asked me as president of the Standing Committee to present testimony in his stead.

As one of many church leaders who take the example and teachings of Jesus to heart, (so many are with us in prayer and standing here with me today) I believe the moral measure of any budget is how the most needy among us – “the least of these” – fare in our society. I encourage you to resist passage  of a budget which undermines the lives, dignity, and rights of vulnerable Mainers living in poverty, particularly this budget with its punitive cuts to anti-poverty programs that provide access to food, healthcare, and general assistance.

Over the past five years, cuts to MaineCare, SNAP, and TANF have resulted in plunging poor children more deeply into poverty. Currently the rate of children living in families with a household income of $10,000 or less for three people is eight times greater than the rest of the U.S. These children are our future and we are letting them down.

For those new to our shores, those deeply invested in crafting for their families a new and promising life among us, it often takes six months to obtain a permit to work from the federal government. General assistance for asylum seekers is a small, time-certain investment in those who enrich our communities with their hard work. Welcoming the stranger is a strongly held value of all major religions and, as a church leader, I can attest that our congregations welcome  partnerships with community organizations to share in offering welcome and support.

In the Boothbay Region where I serve, representatives from the private/public sector meet every month to connect safety nets for our neighbors. Representatives from our local nonprofit charities, the churches, schools, state/local officials, and townsfolk meet monthly to pool our resources. This includes funds from private/non-profit sources, funds for general assistance, and numerous state/federal programs. Together as a team our resource council is able to connect with and support our neighbors who are falling through the cracks of our society. While we utilize every resource available to us, too many souls are still suffering in our midst.

No problems we face in Maine are solved by the additional cuts called for in this budget. Rather, as proposed, it will fray the safety net for thousands of our neighbors and jeopardize the well-being, both now and in their future – of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.

When confronted with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” the 20th Century Catholic activist Dorothy Day replied, “Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.” Nor am I.

I will tell you that the non-profits are staggering under the weight of these budget cuts to the poor. We are struggling to gather enough resources to care for our neighbors. Non-profits exist to do the work that the government can’t do well. We rely on a public/private funding partnership to offer this life-giving work.

As you can see, representatives from all faiths and nine denominations are standing before you today. We will be gathering for an all faiths prayer vigil in the Hall of Flags at 11:30 a.m. As you seek to serve all people in Maine, we pray that each of you are graced with wisdom, strength and compassion for our neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns with you today.

At the prayer vigil, Hoecker offered this prayer before the 125 people present. Click here for a PDF of this prayer. Video may be found below.

Maine State House ~ February 22, 2017 ~ A Prayer Vigil for a Just and Humane Budget

A Prayer for All Faith Communities offered by the Rev. Maria Hoecker

Honoring our diversity and our unity, I invite you to call upon what is highest and deepest by the name you hold sacred and dear, either silently or aloud. (pause)

Creator of all,
You are Love, Mercy, Justice and Goodness.
You are the Beloved One calling out to all of our Communities of Faith in Maine.

Be present to us, as we strengthen our own awareness of Your Presence.
Guide us as we discern the direction of your will, your love, your flow,
each of us moving toward our faith in You.

You are present within all who dwell in our streets, temples, synagogues, mosques, homes, and churches. You bind us one to another,
in our villages, our farms, our boats, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world.

God of All, work through us as we heed your call to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
We grieve the presence of injustice and we name the pressing need for reconciliation.
Together, our actions unite us in our care for all souls both near to us and far away.

We welcome weary travelers as they make their way to our shores and doors.
Through our being and belonging, we are called to build up the bonds which reconnect all who are separated from You.

We are a community of many faiths:
Together we are cacophony of conscience and caring,
we are many voices confronting all evil which destroys lives and shatters families.

God of all names,
we value and respect the diversity of our faiths and heritage.
When shared together, our separate stories call us to deeper truths.
Help us to listen to each other. You bear more wisdom than any one of us can fathom.

Spirit of All, bless our communities of faith with compassion.
—we are made through You and through You we reflect the diversity of your abundance—-
you generously provide for all Creation, but only if we share in the care of all Creation.

Strengthen our faith communities to fulfill your mission here in Maine;
give courage to those who heed your call; shield those who are in peril for their beliefs;
for we all stand stronger together in your strength and mercy.

God of many names, be with us,
guide us in the ways of peace and justice for all.
May it be so. Amen.

The Rev. Maria Hoecker offers prayers at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil for a just and humane budget at the Maine State House

Posted by Episcopal Diocese of Maine on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From WCSH-6: http://www.wcsh6.com/news/politics/clergy-low-income-immigrant-groups-protest-dhhs-budget/412858887

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