News & Media

Faith knows no bounds

January 19, 2012  |  Pueblo Chieftain  |  Link to article

Along with the voice of reason, there's another one that's mostly missing from national discourse: the voice of faith.

A group of Pueblo clergy members hopes to change that, on a local scale and on some statewide and national issues, as well, by forming a local affiliate of PICO CAN (People Improving Communities through Organizing, Clergy Action Network).

That tongue-twisting acronym is part of Denver's MOP (Metro Organizations for People), which this spring will announce a new name that will incorporate all of the nonprofit's arms — and aims — at the statewide level, while maintaining its affiliation with the national PICO network operating in more than 150 cities in 18 states.

In the meantime, MOP organizers have been traveling throughout Colorado in hopes of forming regional or community "clergy tables" like the fledgling one in Pueblo — envisioned to become a regional group as it grows.

 MOP representatives help smaller groups organize with hopes of influencing public policy on issues of their choice, while also encouraging each group to stand with the statewide group on those same issues, and some of a larger scope.

"We are a faith-based, interfaith, multiracial and nonpartisan organization," explained Marilyn Stranske, one of the organizers who's been working with several Southern Colorado communities to start new groups.

Stranske was at Pueblo's second organizational meeting Wednesday, hosted by Wesley United Methodist Church. Ten clergy members — representing a handful of faith traditions — attended. Some of them relayed regrets from a handful of others who had previous engagements but hope to get involved soon.

Stranske said the purpose of the statewide organization is to mobilize local faith leaders to cooperate in addressing issues of financial and legal injustice, education, health care and otherissues in their communities.

Denver's MOP works mostly with and through church groups, but also has projects at a small number of schools and neighborhood associations, she said. One high school group, for example, focuses on the obstacles to higher education faced by undocumented students.

Local focus|

Wednesday's Pueblo meeting was intended to begin the process of distilling which local and regional problems should be the group's primary focus.

Although numerous issues were discussed, several were common themes among all who spoke: poverty, substandard schools and lack of access to basic health care. Those three are connected to or often are among root causes of some other issues the group identified: teen pregnancy, financial and racial inequality and an array of issues related to undocumented immigrants.

The Rev. Margaret Redmond, who underwent training in community organizing with PICO late last year, said she is "particularly concerned with how the right and the left are distorting what's really going on, and the clergy has been absent from the discussion . . . How do we get back in the public square" and help those who have been hurt by government and corporate greed and deceit, she asked.

The Rev. Jeannine Lamb of Christ Congregational and First Congregational churches said her congregations are deeply involved with Pueblo's immigrant population and are concerned "with the disservice that's done to all of Pueblo around the whole issue of education — the kids falling through the cracks. We need to delineate the best way we can be effective as instigators of change."

Love and support|

The Rev. Robert Kippley of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Canon City underwent PICO training last year and is helping to organize a group in Colorado Springs, so he missed Wednesday's meeting but is part of the local group.

He said during a phone interview Thursday that he hopes to have more of an impact on human suffering during the next (and final) decade of his career, and PICO CAN provides an array of ways to do so.

For him, community activism is just another way of "trying to be the hands and the feet of Christ and giving love to others who are hurting," he said.

Kippley is particularly interested in trying to help individuals and families who suffer in myriad ways because they have no medical insurance or money for even basic health care, and in changing the way public agencies deal with the poor and the marginalized.

"There's a whole other process and approach to these problems among agencies that address them that I don't find to be too Christian," he said. "Given the crisis that we're facing in our country, it's something that pastors need to be more aware of and get involved in."

On the personal level, he said PICO CAN has helped him meet many new colleagues and make new friends from a variety of faith traditions "and I hope to be meeting many more."

Discussion regarding which local and regional issues to take on, and how, will continue at the Pueblo group's next meeting, set for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 85 Stanford Ave.

In the meantime, the group will work on organizing a community event featuring health care and media analyst and author Wendell Potter, who wrote "Deadly Spin." The tentative plan involves a public appearance in May.