Since 1969, Interfaith Mission Service (IMS) in Huntsville, Alabama, has promoted religious harmony and interfaith, cultural and racial dialogue and advocated positive change. IMS is an interfaith cooperative of mainline Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist and Unity congregations.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, one of several United Methodist churches involved with IMS, is the coordinating (lead) congregation for the "Daybreak in Alabama" project. A series of study guides and videos lets groups of 10-30 people discuss how people of faith can help to alleviate suffering, promote racial and religious harmony and advocate for peace with justice. Included in the 10 planned topics are affordable housing, death penalty, education and health care. Three are now complete: predatory lending, Constitutional reform and immigration reform.
According to Debbie Esslinger, project director, a recent case study on predatory lending illustrates how one congregation, Monte Sano United Methodist Church in Huntsville, successfully followed the formula used for all "Daybreak in Alabama" workshops.
"First, an adult Sunday school class completed its study of predatory lending and reached a consensus," says Esslinger. "Second, the class formulated an action plan and presented it to the congregation's governing body, which agreed to the recommended action. The action plan then went into a briefing binder along with an action plan from another congregation.
"Third, leaders representing several thousand members of the two congregations presented the briefing to their Alabama state legislators, asking them to introduce a bill in the next session to change the regulations governing the payday lending industry of the state.
"In less than six months," she says, "the Monte Sano UMC group went from data gathering to convincing legislators to introduce a bill that could help stop an industry from preying upon the poor."
Peace with Justice grant enhances program
In 2015, IMS received a $5,000 Peace with Justice grant from the General Board of Church and Society to complete two more topics in the "Daybreak in Alabama" series: human trafficking and food security.
"These topics have broad interest around the world," notes Esslinger, "and we intend to make our program available throughout congregational and interfaith networks."
The IMS ministry was one of 15 recipients throughout the United Methodist connection to receive a grant this year. Funding came from local church offerings on Peace with Justice Sunday, traditionally celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost. Most of the offering remains in the annual conference to support local ministries; a percentage goes to fund the Peace with Justice grants.
Peace with Justice Sunday promotes efforts toward a peaceful and just world and supports peace with justice ministries. To get involved, contact the Peace with Justice coordinator in your annual conference.
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee. This article was originally published in Interpreter magazine, May-June 2015.