United Methodists urged to put weight behind support of children



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

United Methodists urged to put weight behind support of children

March 9, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0634}

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

LAKELAND — Children don’t often have a voice when it comes to their welfare, but organizers of one event hope to shine the spotlight on the needs of Florida’s youngest citizens.

It’s Children’s Week March 25-April 1 in Tallahassee, and the Florida Conference’s episcopal office, United Methodist Women and Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty (BICAP) task force are urging United Methodists from across the state to celebrate the week and participate in planned activities.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker urges support of Florida's children during a press conference held at the Florida Capitol during the 2006 Children's Week. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #07-0534.

The week is designed to give advocates, families and legislators the opportunity to learn about important issues affecting the health and well-being of children in Florida. The Florida Conference is one of a number of organizations sponsoring the week, which is primarily supported by nonprofit and faith-based organizations and comprises more than 30 community events and activities that are free and open to the public.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and other religious leaders will participate in a press conference March 27 at the capitol building, advocating for laws and budgets that ensure a high quality of life for children. Conference leaders are asking Florida United Methodists to join them at the press conference.

The Rev. Pam Cahoon, chairwoman of the conference’s BICAP task force and director of Christians Reaching Out to Society Inc., an outreach ministry of the conference, said Children’s Week is necessary because children have been overlooked for far too long. She said it’s vital for churches to speak on behalf of children.

“Since children don’t vote, and children don’t contribute to campaigns, and children can’t hire lobbyists, children are ignored by elected officials,” she said. “It is only when caring organizations like the church stand up to shine the light on children that politicians understand how integral children are in the lives of their constituents.”

Cahoon said concerned citizens must be educated on the issues and work collaboratively with the church and legislative officials. Meanwhile, representatives need to be sensitive to issues affecting children, voting on budgets that support children’s programs. “Elected officials are our representatives who can explicitly impact the future of children,” she added.

Cindy Cosper, president of the North West District’s United Methodist Women and a member of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, said she hopes Florida Conference churches will embrace Children’s Week because of the outcome of a recent Conference Table on social witness. The goal of that gathering was to discern a common social justice issue all conference churches could embrace and act upon. They decided the focus should be children.

“Our society may be judged successful by how we treat those who have the least or, in this case, no voice,” Cosper said. “Those with a voice and a heart and a concern for the present and the future should use it. Also, we are a people who believe in prayer. I feel we should use that power to help those in the legislature and Congress who are trying to make the correct decisions.”

The church has already decided where it stands when it comes to championing and ministering to children, Cahoon said, citing the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. They state, “Children have the right to food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and emotional well-being, and that these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents.”

In following the Social Principles, Cahoon said members have an obligation to ensure the rights of children and affirm their well-being. She said they must be seriously involved in meeting children’s needs and addressing issues that focus on social action.

Referring to the church’s responsibilities at baptism, Cahoon said every person at one point has shared in the response after a baby is baptized, but questioned whether church members are truly committed with their hearts.

“Every church has families with babies or young children who are brought before the church for the Sacraments,” Cahoon said. “We are asked as members of the church during the baptismal covenant, ‘Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include the child before you in your care?’ Our congregational response is ‘We will proclaim the good news, surround this child and family in love.’ ”

Cahoon said that’s easier said than done, however. She challenges church members to consider how they can nurture and mentor their church’s children and families from birth into adulthood, with the church a key part of the process. That leads her to a slightly different take on the popular adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” She says, “It takes a church to raise a child,” and the conference’s churches must “go to where the children are in our communities.”

Like the federal government initiative, “No Child Left Behind,” she said the conference should have it’s own initiative, “No Church Left Behind.”

“We must have every Florida conference church actively involved in the issues and focusing on the needs of children,” Cahoon said. “It takes a church to reach out through advocacy, mentor through talking to children, their families, their teachers, and then speak out through networking and meeting with legislators about issues for children.”

Cosper agrees and says society can no longer ignore children or their issues.

Cut-out and painted hands from children across the state hang in the rotunda of the Florida Capitol during the 2006 Children's Week events in Tallahassee. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #07-0535.

Children’s Week, which Cosper describes as a grassroots effort created by those who advocate and care for children, provides an opportunity to engage. Cosper urges United Methodists to take advantage of that opportunity and devote just one day at the capitol to stand up for children and their rights.

“Our churches have been encouraged to use the power of prayer to help the children and the legislators in the month of March,” she said. “This can be intercessory, but as a Methodist I feel called to live my faith as a social witness, so I will again stand beside our bishop as he advocates on children’s issues. Others could so easily write a letter or an e-mail of encouragement to their legislators. Tell them Florida’s children need homes, good teachers and access to health care.”

Cosper says United Methodists should “keep praying” for their legislators throughout the session.

Cahoon said United Methodists have a scriptural mandate to act and “now is the time to stand on faith.”

“If people would just take the day off work and prioritize the needs of children in Florida by caravanning to Tallahassee, we would show our children, who watch everything that we do, that we truly care about them,” she said. “As an educator I see children, especially those in poverty, who are marginalized due to their environment, many of whom may feel that they have no one to speak out for them. So I say it’s very simple: if not now, then when, and if not me, then who?

“Children must have the right to a quality life, one that will give them hope to get them out of poverty, for I truly believe that if we provide quality programs for children, especially at an early age, we can affect a child’s future.”

Jason Zaborske, statewide coordinator for Children’s Week, said each year’s event builds on the last and this year’s will be the biggest in five years, with more than 50 nonprofit sponsors. He said that indicates more organizations are rallying for the cause of children.

“We’ve seen a tremendous growth in activity,” he said. “There has been a surge in momentum. Churches, groups and organizations are beginning to see that we can all work together, get behind advocating for children.”

In addition to attending the press conference during the week, Whitaker and conference leaders have encouraged all churches to select a Sunday to plan a worship service that will feature children. Suggested worship activities include offering times of prayer for children and their families, displaying children’s special talents and involving them in the worship service.

Congregations have also been encouraged to have their children create paper cut-outs of their hands and paste them on 8.5 inch by 11 inch sheets of colorful paper that can be displayed around the church. The hanging hands can also be mailed to Tallahassee to be displayed in the capitol rotunda during Children’s Week. They should be mailed before March 23 to: Children’s Week, c/o Kids Incorporated, 1170 Capital Circle NE, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Individuals wanting more information about Children’s Week, other advocacy opportunities or children’s issues may contact Cahoon at pcahoon@crosministries.org, Pam Davis at psbdavis@hotmail.com or 954-0698-6784, or the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin at lrankin@flumc.org or 800-282-8011, extension 131.

A full listing of Children’s Week events is available at http://www.childrensweek.org/events.htm.

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This article relates to Outreach and 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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