Going 'beyond charity'
About 500 people attended the Faith Summit on Child Poverty last month in Durham, and some churches are already tackling the topic during Lent. Pilgrim United Church of Christ launched its Lenten series, “Poverty in Durham: A Faith Perspective” Tuesday night, and it will continue the next three Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the church, 3011 Academy Dr.
First up was an overview of “The Challenge of Poverty in Durham” with guest speakers Rev. Mel Williams of End Poverty Durham, Stan Holt of United Way of the Greater Triangle, and local resident Kimberly Crowe, who has faced poverty first-hand.
Williams said that with 14,000 Durham children in poverty, there is too much disparity between rich and poor.
“Poverty is not a character flaw,” Williams said. “It’s time to stop blaming people for being poor,” he said, which is defined by a lack of resources and opportunity. Williams noted the many Bible verses calling for helping the poor, both in the Old Testament and New Testament.
“God’s priority is the poor. So it’s pretty clear our priority as people of faith is to care for the poor,” said Williams, pastor emeritus of Watts Street Baptist Church.
Caring for the poor goes beyond charity, he said, and includes advocating for a living wage, free bus transportation in Durham and subsidized childcare. He also suggested building relationships with the poor that are long-term and mutually enriching, not patronizing or condescending.
“What if God is leading us to the poor, and the poor to us, for our salvation?” Williams asked.
Holt, who worked at Genesis Home before United Way, shared statistics about poverty, and a few audience members questioned how the poor are portrayed and described. One suggestion was to use the word “investment” rather than “education” concerning youth literacy.
Crowe shared her experience as a mother of two who lost her job, car, home and pride.
“You are afraid of being judged,” she said, and being homeless “can take you to hopelessness very quickly.”
From South Carolina, Crowe ended up in Durham because her youngest son has several health problems and had a liver transplant at Duke. Through Housing for New Hope, she was able to get her own apartment. She works two jobs but still struggles with bills and having time for her children.
“I want my kids to be better than me,” Crowe said. “Strive for more. Don’t settle for less.” Her biggest challenge now is no health insurance coverage yet at her new job, and her youngest still needing serious treatments at Duke. She can’t afford daycare, she said, and her older son needs academic help in school.
Several people in the audience at Pilgrim offered ways to support.
Tom Harris, chair of the Lenten series planning committee at Pilgrim UCC, said the church decided “the time is ripe for Pilgrim’s members and the Durham faith community as a whole to hear this message afresh and consider new ways to put our faith into action.” He said “we have frequently heard that better than giving someone a fish is to teach them how to fish. But in our series we will learn about sharing pond management as a way to sustain the harvest of fish.”
Future topics at Pilgrim UCC are “The Axis of Poverty: Jobs and Housing” on Tuesday; “Beyond Charity: Addressing Causes and Empowering People” on March 5 and “Advocacy for the Poor” on March 12. For information, call 919-489-1381.
“This is the kind of thing we want to see happen in man, many, many other congregations in Durham,” Williams said. He will also speak during the Lenten series on poverty at Epworth United Methodist Church.