Bishop invites members to rally for children during annual week, year-round



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishop invites members to rally for children during annual week, year-round

March 10, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011  
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0456}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Children are often the forgotten members of society, but Children's Week is a time set aside each year to highlight issues important to the state's youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

TALLAHASSEE — The decorated hands of Florida children adorn the Capitol's rotunda. Photo by Meredyth Earnest, Photo #06-0320.

The 11th Annual Children's Week "Celebrating Parents and Children" will take place in Tallahassee March 24-April 4. Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker will be a featured speaker at a press conference April 4 at 11 a.m.

The statewide celebration is designed to give advocates, families and legislators the opportunity to learn about important issues affecting the health and well-being of children in the state of Florida. All of the activities are free and open to the public.

Whitaker said United Methodists have a moral obligation to address the needs of children. Florida United Methodists are working to meet that responsibility in part through a partnership of the Council of Bishops' Initative on Children and Povery (BICAP) and Hope for the Children of Africa. The multi-faceted initiative offers Florida United Methodists opportunities to minister to God's children at home and abroad by developing ministries for Florida's children and the people of the East Angola Conference of The United Methodist Church. One of BICAP's goals is to strengthen local church ministries for children and their parents.

Whether involved with BICAP or another ministry area supporting the needs of children, Whitaker said children must not be forgotten and stressed that church members who aren't able to travel to Tallahassee to participate in Children's Week activities can still address children's issues in their own communities.

"I think what we mainly need to do is have congregations reach out to children in their community, particularly children in poverty," Whitaker said. 

"One small thing" that can be done for Children's Week, according to Whitaker, is for him to attend and express the church's concern about the needs of children living in poverty in order to garner support for bi-partisan efforts to alleviate that condition among Florida's children.

Cindy Cosper, president of the Florida Conference's United Methodist Women (UMW) of the North West District, has attended portions of Children's Week throughout the years and lobbied state legislators about children's issues. She will attend Whitaker's press conference, along with other United Methodist Women and local women and their children.

Whitaker and Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster of the Alabama-West Florida Conference attended an inter-religious legislative briefing during last year's Children's Week to urge lawmakers to make summer nutrition for children a priority.

"I am very proud that two United Methodist bishops (serving Florida) ... have taken the time to come to the state Capitol and speak to lawmakers about the needs of children and the poor," Cosper said. "Our legislators create pathways to and allocate resources that are needed by children and families."

Cosper said one issue that will be discussed is affordable family housing.

While children's issues are highlighted on the state level during one week each year, needs can be addressed throughout the year, according to Cosper. She said her church has "Letters and Lunch" after some Sunday services during which members are asked to write letters to legislators expressing their personal opinions on current social issues, such as hunger, health care and access to governmental services.

"A few people really do take the time to love their neighbor," Cosper said. "Legislators want to do good works too, but they need more than lobbyists making suggestions."

Whitaker said it is important for church organizations such as United Methodist Women to play an important role in keeping the church aware of these types of issues and additional needs that exist in the world.

"I believe this is a concern United Methodist Women share, and if United Methodist Women's groups in every congregation would do whatever they could to participate in raising awareness about the needs in Florida that would be a wonderful thing," he said. "I'm not saying it would be a concern of United Methodist Women (only) ... it would be a concern of the whole congregation. I believe the kind of leadership United Methodist Women have exercised historically would be helpful."

Pamela Davis said UMW is loyal to the ideals of uplifting children throughout the year, as well as during Children's Week. Davis is social action mission coordinator for Florida Conference UMW.

"It is with deepened passion and commitment that United Methodist Women will continue to address the issues and needs of children, from programs that provide nutritional meals throughout the summer funded by a federal program to the budgetary cuts in our educational funding," Davis said. "We truly know that we must be actively involved so that 'no child is left behind' ... and 'no church is left behind' as we advocate for the future successes of our children in Florida."

A key element of that goal is state legislators tapping into the needs of children.

"Children do not vote, but they should be a primary interest of lawmakers," Cosper said. "How will weakening environmental laws help them? How will school funding help all of them? How will having less affordable health care or housing help them?

"I hope that the people who profess to serve a God who expects us to love each other would take notice of the issues of the session. Those same blessed-to-be-North American people may just practice democracy and tell their legislators again and again that the needs of children are the needs of everyone."

Davis said children will take precedence in 2006-2007 through the UMW's goal to facilitate an educational summit where members of the church and cluster communities can network to address the needs of children. She said UMW will continue ongoing work with children in conference churches and schools to ensure specific community needs are addressed and every child receives equity in terms of their learning environments.

Whitaker believes society has lost sight of the importance of caring for children and said something is wrong in our culture when children are ignored.

"Human wisdom shows us that society can't survive unless it cares for, educates and mentors its children, but in our society there seems to be a lack of awareness of our responsibility there," Whitaker said. "Maybe it's a result of individualism. Maybe everybody thinks their responsibility ends at their own door — all they are responsible for are their own personal children. We ought to be concerned about not only our own biological or adopted children, but all the children in our community."

Children's Week events and activities will take place in local communities throughout the state and in Tallahassee. The "Hanging of the Hands" is a special tradition during the week. Children from across Florida make and decorate handprints that are hung throughout the Florida Capitol.

Sunday School or preschool classes that would like to participate in the Hanging of the Hands are invited to make construction paper cutouts in the shape of hands, then decorate and string them together to be hung vertically from ceiling to floor. Small posters (8.5x11 or 11x14) can also be sent.

All artwork must be submitted by March 24 to Children's Week, c/o Kids Incorporated, 1170 N.E. Capital Circle, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

More information about Children's Week is available at http://www.childrens-week.org.

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This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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