Dear GBM Members and Friends:
This year has been a year of accomplishments and change for Greater Birmingham Ministries. We have played a major role in the leadership of the Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for National Revival in Alabama. We met our $100,000 goal for the end-of-year financial campaign. Last week we served 200 families (more than 600 children) in our Christmas Drive distribution of gifts and food. We also celebrated the passing of the First Step Act, a national criminal reform bill, an effort that engaged our staff.
On the other hand, this has been a year of change. We hired 2 new community organizers through funding of the Stand As One initiative. We also lost significant staff members, which has caused a lot of redefining of roles and adjustments because of those departures.
For me, the second half of this year has also been one of great change. I continued work on a doctoral degree at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and completed a year-long chaplain residency at a local hospital. A more profound change is that I left active pastoral work after 20 years in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church and almost 40 years of church work. I am excited about the new possibilities and about my return to music (my first love), but I have been reminded of how unsettling change—any change—can be.
In 2019, we are continuing our celebration of GBM’s impact on behalf of and in collaboration with those impacted by poverty and injustice across 50 years. People of various faith traditions (or no particular one) have come together time and time again to make a tremendous difference in the greater Birmingham community, the state of Alabama, and beyond through GBM’s work. We have much for which to be grateful to God.
As we look to the past to inform our future, we are asking ourselves Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s question, “Where Do We Go from Here?” The answer (or answers) to this question will hinge on how we respond to change.
I am currently reading Christian Social Innovation: Renewing Wesleyan Witness by L. Gregory Jones. In looking back at the role of social innovation in Methodist life and witness in the United States, Jones describes Christian social innovation as “a way of life in relationship with God that focuses on building and transforming institutions that nurture generative solutions to wicked social problems, and is shaped by intersections of mindsets and practices of blessing, hope, forgiveness, friendship, imagination, and improvisation.”He also notes a distinctive characteristic of Wesleyans to have “a commitment to integrative thinking that holds together ideas and practices that others have tended to make oppositional….”
If we look at GBM’s history, we will see that GBM’s creation was Christian social innovation in action. People of good faith came together to “nurture generative solutions to wicked social problems.” This ecumenical work has blossomed to a rich and culturally diverse example of interfaith social innovation nurtured by people of good faith.
Amid societal, personal, and organizational changes, it can be tempting to turn back to the familiar to ease our discomfort, to “go back to Egypt.” And though we have made great progress and have accomplished much, the current cultural climate emphasizes that social innovation by people of faith is needed as much now as it was at GBM’s inception.
Jones stresses the need for people of faith to not avoid change for comfort’s sake nor to change solely for the sake of change. Instead, he invites us to be catalysts through “traditioned innovation [that keeps our] feet firmly on the ground with our hands open to the future.” This requires staying focused on the ‘why’ behind what we do. This raison d’être is rooted in God’s desire for the healing of all creation and requires that we bring the best of our past into the future trusting that the God who has delivered mightily still does so.
In the documentary Deej, which follows an intelligent but non-verbal autistic high school student as he advocates for full inclusion for himself and others like him, DJ is wrestling with his anxiety and discomfort resulting from his family’s relocation for him to attend Oberlin College. In seeking to re-center his son, DJ’s father makes this statement: “Every time someone said something wasn’t possible—you, me, and mom—we put our heads together, and we imaginatively thought about what we could do.”DJ’s parents did not limit him but, rather, engaged him in the decision-making process and surrounded him with the support that allowed him to flourish.
I believe this is the challenge for us as people of faith engaged in social innovation. Even as we stare resolutely at the challenges before us, we can maintain a level of hopefulness that deepens our relations and causes us to “put our heads together” and imaginatively think about what WE can do empowered by God!
My hope is that the Spirit of the living God will fall fresh upon us in ways that reignite our imagination and inspire us to say, “Yes” or “Yes…and”to the possibilities of God in this our 50thyear. May we not live as though God does not exist; rather, may we trust that the God who is with us in the wilderness will get us to the Promised Land—step by step.
In love and service,
Dollie Howell Pankey
(Rev.) Dollie Howell Pankey
President, Board of Directors
Jones, L. Gregory. Christian Social Innovation: Renewing Wesleyan Witness.Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016.
Rooy, Robert, dir. Deej. Perf. David James Savarese. Rooy Media, 2017. DVD.