Iowa City church to study economic issues locally, worldwide

Congregation wants to dig deeper on poverty issues faced by Iowans

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IOWA CITY — Boxes of juice, containers of applesauce and piles of granola bars crowd three tables where Faith United Church of Christ just finished a recent Sunday service.

Members of the small church, located at 1609 DeForest Ave., line up on each side, filling plastic grocery sacks with the food. Each bag — 36 total — were delivered to Mark Twain Elementary School on Friday. The bags eventually will go home with students who might otherwise be hungry.

“The idea of any child — of any person, but especially a young a child — being told ‘I’m sorry, there’s no food until Monday,’ is difficult to comprehend,” says Marilyn Calkins, a member of Faith United Church of Christ. “How can any of us not do something?”

Each week, for at least five years, volunteers from Faith United make the drive to Hiawatha to collect food from the HACAP Food Reservoir and bring it to the church. The weekend food program is just one way the church reaches out to those in need.

Church members volunteer at the Shelter House Free Lunch program, cooking and serving lunch, every other month. They have regular food drives for The Crisis Center of Johnson County, fundraisers for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program throughout the year and annually support Heifer International.

Economic justice

However, church members aren’t satisfied with just helping those in need. Faith United recently announced plans to intensify its study of economic justice issues in Johnson County and beyond.

“We will continue the various social outwork things that we do while taking a deeper look at why our help is needed,” says Ann Zerkel, a member of the church’s Faith Works committee.

The committee is overseeing the church’s study, which coincides with its exploration of becoming a Covenanted Economic Justice Congregation of the United Church of Christ.

The Economic Justice Covenant Program is a way for congregations to explore issues of economic justice — in the Bible, faith traditions, communities and the world, and personal lives — and then determine God’s plan.

“We’re feeling called now to do more than fix economic injustice issues at an immediate level, if we can,” Zerkel says. “We want to research, to learn, why this is happening.”

Poverty numbers

Nationally, more than one in seven Americans, or 15 percent, of the entire population live below the poverty line ($22,811 for a family of four with two children), according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released in late 2012.

Nearly 15 percent of households in the United States (50.1 million Americans, or one in six) are food insecure — meaning that the people in the household are unsure of how they will provide for their next meal at some point during the year. Households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity.

Slightly more than 40 percent of Iowa’s public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the Iowa Department of Education. This is an increase from 27 percent 10 years ago.

New covenants

“We’re just continuing to educate ourselves, and other folks, about what some of the issues are in our community and beyond,” the Rev. Bob Loffer says.

From there, the church will work to educate its members and the community at large, working with social service groups and lawmakers to facilitate change.

This isn’t the first time church members have explored and adopted a new covenant. In 1992, Faith United was the first United Church of Christ in Iowa to declare itself open and affirming, symbolizing its open support for all people who wish to join their spiritual community, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

First United also adopted the Accessible to All and nuclear-free zones covenants. Loffer says the studies, and subsequent declarations, express what each United Church of Christ congregation has identified as important to them.

“I think we, as a faith community, have to address what strikes us the most,” he says. “And what strikes us the most right now is economic justice.”

There isn’t a set deadline for the study. The church could have its resolution scripted by early 2014, but Zerkel says it’s more important that the study is done right and that the sentiment is truly believed by members of the congregation.

“It’s ongoing in that even if we should approve a covenant, we have to watch to make sure we live it,” she says. “It becomes a necessary part of our Christian faith.”


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