By Jessica Connor
The United Methodist Church in South Carolina is organizing a mass effort to help children in poverty.
Despite its beaches and thriving tourism market, South Carolina is also known for its darker corridor of shame “ the stretch of Interstate 95 that is home to impoverished families and a school system that struggles to provide the state-required minimally adequate education to its children, as documented in the 2006 film Corridor of Shame.
Now, S.C. UMC leaders are joining forces with other children s advocates to participate in a global Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty.
The Pan-Methodist Campaign began in 1998 after the bishops of the global UMC along with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church voted to launch a demonstration of their solidarity in commitment to children in poverty. The African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal Churches are also now part of the campaign. Objectives are to renew and empower the efforts of congregations already serving children at risk for poverty, and challenge and enable congregations that are not involved to establish ministries for such children.
In South Carolina, Martha Thompson is spearheading the effort, joined by S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, retired bishop Jack Meadors, retired bishop Ken Carder, the Rev. Kathy James and other children and youth advocates across the state.
At the group s launch meeting April 25, Thompson praised Holston s commitment to children by encouraging the campaign in this state.
Thompson cited a quote from children s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children s Defense Fund: If you don t like the way the world is, change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.
Our charge today is to do just that, Thompson told the dozen children s advocates gathered for the meeting.
The group discussed how to get the word out about the plight of children, as well as how to get churches involved.
Most churches spend 99 percent of their time taking care of their needs and don t have much left for community needs, Sen. John Matthews told the room. Children represent 25 percent of the population but 100 percent of the future.
The Rev. John Culp called for a structure of action that addresses systemic injustices toward children regardless of political correctness.
The Rev. James Friday urged that we raise the state education standard from minimally adequate to something higher.
As we address the issues of children in poverty, I pray our churches will be a place to receive and extend the love of Jesus, Friday said in his devotional prayer at the meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Carder called poverty a global crisis and a holocaust, citing 8 to 10 million people who die of poverty-related causes annually across the globe.
For the first time ever, we have the resources to fix it, he noted.
With 20 percent of South Carolina s children currently living in poverty, Carder called for the group to cast a moral vision for our denomination.
Friendship and ministry with the poor is a measure of grace in the Wesleyan tradition, Carder reminded the group, urging them to reach out to likeminded partners in the crusade to alleviate the problem of children in poverty. We re Methodists “ we know how to network!
Meadors also spoke, encouraging a variety of things churches and leaders can do to spread awareness and fix the problem.
Find ways to listen, he told those gathered.
At the meeting s close, Holston said that in combatting children in poverty, four things converge: family, faith, community and the government. Working in unity, we can make a difference, he said.
It doesn t matter if you re in the Pee Dee or the Upstate or the Lowcountry, we are all bound together in this, Holston said.
Future S.C. efforts of the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty will be showcased in the Advocate, along with monthly columns and other news. For more information, visit www.panmethodistcampaignforchildren.org .