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Ecumenical Conference to Address Signs of the Times

February 2, 2012

By Marianne Comfort

Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) are coming up, and the closer the March weekend filled with workshops and worship nears, the more relevant the topics become.

It was months ago that the theme of the economy and our nation’s priorities was settled on by the planning committee, which I’ve been privileged to participate in as a representative from the Sisters of Mercy. We knew even then that the budget would be a timely topic in spring 2012, given contentious negotiations last year over the federal budget and over raising the debt ceiling that too often forgot the needs of persons who are poor and vulnerable.

The choice of a theme turned out to be prophetic — given growing concern about inequality and current debates over  whether to preserve a bloated military or preserve vital community services — just as are the words from Isaiah 58 that will guide the discussions on how our faith calls us to take action in these critical times.

“Through Isaiah, God challenges a nation that on the one hand professes a delight in seeking God and knowing God’s ways, yet serves self interests, oppresses workers, neglects poor and hungry people and quarrels to no good end,” reads a description of this year’s EAD. “Isaiah calls the nation to a righteous practice that loosens the bonds of injustice, lets the oppressed go free, and breaks every yoke. As Christian disciples, EAD participants will attempt to live into Christ’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic witness (Luke 4).”

Sponsors of EAD – both the 50-plus organizations and their individual staff and members –respond to that challenge throughout the year. Jean Stokan, director of the Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team, was arrested last summer in the Capitol Rotunda with several others from various faith-based groups as they prayerfully pleaded with lawmakers to spare from budget cuts programs for low-income individuals and families.

NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, has been calling attention to the wealth gap in the U.S.  Bread for the World organizes letter-writing campaigns in churches around the country to address issues of poverty and hunger. Historic peace churches consistently urge our government leaders to end wars, trim the military budget and seek alternative solutions to global conflicts.

Bringing all of this passion for justice together in one place during the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days results in enlightening educational opportunities, inspiring worship and a powerful witness in the halls of Congress.

This year’s conference will explore the economy and the budget through theologically grounded presentations and through workshops that provide domestic and international perspectives. Topics include the privatization of prisons, the moral implications of mountaintop removal and hydrofracking, modernday slavery and the extractive industry, and alternatives to Wall Street capitalism. Other topics include healthcare reform, the cost of war, and women in the economy. Participants also will learn about effective advocacy from a faith perspective and get the chance to meet with their members of Congress or congressional staff to express their concerns.

There will be a special emphasis on providing participants with the skills needed to continue their advocacy once they return home, especially during a presidential election year. Trainings will cover engaging teenagers in election work, promoting voter registration, getting our message in the media, using social media to influence public policy, hosting town hall meetings and candidate forums in worship communities, and helping direct-service volunteers move into advocacy.

You may find more information on the Ecumenical Advocacy Days website.

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