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United Methodists called to rally for children in Tallahassee

United Methodists called to rally for children in Tallahassee

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodists called to rally for children in Tallahassee

By Erik J. Alsgaard | Feb. 27, 2009 {0980}

LAKELAND, Fla. — In the midst of a bad economy, Florida lawmakers are gathering in March to set priorities for state government. Translation: legislators must cut the budget.

Nancy Dougherty holds a work in progress — a T-shirt that will be imprinted with several more handprints of children in the preschool program at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. United Methodists will wear the T-shirts while visiting with Florida legislators during Florida Advocacy Days. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1108. For longer description see photo gallery.

As they gather, a small, but vocal, group is preparing to take action to ensure a vulnerable segment of the state’s population is not forgotten: children.

Starting March 29, the Florida Conference’s Florida Advocacy Days during Children’s Week at the in Tallahassee will offer United Methodists in the Florida and Alabama-West Florida conferences, members of the 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and other concerned citizens an opportunity to work together in shaping public policy, placing children front and center.

“Every United Methodist in Florida is invited to come to Advocacy Days,” said Nancy Dougherty, Florida Advocacy Days coordinator. “Our time together will empower local church members to take their Christian concerns for the ‘least of these’ to their legislators’ offices and speak to them about specific issues that affect children.”

The major theme in this year’s Florida Legislature will be developing a budget in the midst of an economic crisis. Reports indicate the state can expect a $2.3 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year and legislators have their cutting shears out.

Florida Advocacy Days will teach participants the foundations of the issues and practical skills for visiting their legislators. They’ll also receive spiritual support through Bible study and worship, Dougherty says.

“Advocacy is a biblical command,” she said at a gathering of Florida Conference staff in mid-February, quoting Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Nancy Dougherty helps Ava, 2, add her handprint to a T-shirt. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1109. For longer description see photo gallery.

“Advocacy also calls for action,” she said, and for the first time this year, Florida Conference staff members have been invited to attend Florida Advocacy Days. The conference will give each staff person who participates one day off work to compensate for his or her time if the staff person uses one vacation day to attend the event. Free transportation is being offered to staff, along with free accommodations at the nearby Centenary United Methodist Church camp.

“We’re encouraging you to attend,” said Dougherty, “as a witness to the larger church that we take children’s issues seriously.”

Recent reports indicate more than one in 6 children in Florida lives in poverty. Issues affecting children and their families include affordable housing, funding for food stamps and providing meals at schools.

“The Florida Conference established children as its social witness priority in 2007,” said Melinda Trotti, director of Florida Conference Justice and Spiritual Formation Ministries, part of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries. “Florida Advocacy Days is one way United Methodists can live out that priority.”

Ava, 4, adds her handprint to a Florida Advocacy Days T-shirt. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1110. For longer description see photo gallery.

The schedule for the advocacy days begins with the “Hanging of the Hands” March 29 at 12:30 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda. Children from across the state produce handprints or hand cutouts that are displayed by the thousands in the capitol as a silent witness to the importance of placing children first. A welcome dinner and worship at Trinity United Methodist Church — within walking distance of the capitol — will be held at 6 p.m.

The schedule March 30 and 31 includes training, worship and meeting with legislators. Full registration information is available at A bulletin insert and other resources are also provided.

Many groups sponsor Florida Advocacy Days, including the Florida Conference, the 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (, Florida Impact (, Florida Conference United Methodist Women, and the Alabama-West Florida Conference and its United Methodist Women (

More information about Children’s Week is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference