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United Methodists speak out for children during advocacy event

United Methodists speak out for children during advocacy event

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodists speak out for children during advocacy event

By Erik J. Alsgaard | April 15, 2009 {1002}

NOTE: An e-Review video news story of Florida Advocacy Days is available at the end of this story.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — More than 140 United Methodists and people of other faiths gathered at the Florida Capitol in late March to speak for children and others who normally wouldn’t have a voice in the halls of state government.

Bishops Timothy W. Whitaker (left) and Paul L. Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Conference (center) join the Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, pastor at St. Pauls United Methodist Church in leading Florida Advocacy participants on their march toward the Florida Capitol. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1148.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker walked those halls with other denominational and ecumenical leaders March 29-31 during Florida Advocacy Days (FAD) at Children’s Week, which is held each spring when the state legislature is in session. They visited and prayed with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a United Methodist from St. Petersburg, and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, from Florida District 22, which includes parts of Alachua, Levy and Marion counties.

“We talked about the budget crisis and our concern that children not be the ones hurt by the decisions which will be made,” the bishop said later in a blog entry about his experience. “We encouraged use of the ‘stimulus’ package of the federal government. We advocated for KidCare bills for health insurance for children. And, we also expressed our concern that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund be used for the purpose for which it was created, especially in these difficult times for many Floridians.”

Florida Advocacy Days participants march to the state capitol. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1149.

Cretul told the bishop the state is facing a $1 billion shortfall in this year’s budget and a $6.3 billion shortfall next year.

“A lot of the problems we face can’t be solved at the State House,” Cretul said. “We also need the church house.”

FAD participants gathered March 29 for worship at Trinity United Methodist Church, located a few blocks from the capitol. The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of Florida Conference Global Missions and Justice, set the tone for the group’s work ahead in his sermon.

“Guilt is wasted energy,” he said. “The gospel demands that we do something, and each individual knows better what that is. Many of us do nothing even when we know better. That’s a sin.”

Rankin said it was time to “start a revival” in the church. “I’m joyful tonight. I’m looking at a whole room of activists,” he said. “Our scriptures teach us and should motivate us to take action.”

Secretary George Sheldon of the Florida Department of Children and Families shares statistics about the challenges Floridians are facing during the current economy. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1150.

One full day during FAD was dedicated to participants learning about critical issues facing lawmakers, from affordable housing to a possible raise in the state cigarette tax.

Secretary George Sheldon of the Florida Department of Children and Families spoke at one session, proclaiming his optimism even during the current economy.

“Times like these test our ability for communities to come together, but that is exactly what is needed now,” he said. “We have to parlay our resources, both community and state.”

Sheldon shared statistics that conveyed some of the challenges Floridians are facing:

• Food stamp demand has risen 54 percent in the last two years — an increase of more than 600,000 people and the largest increase in the United States;

• More than 1.8 million Floridians now receive food stamps;

• There has been a 37 percent increase in people going to domestic violence centers; and

• One in 10 people in Florida receives some sort of assistance.

Sheldon also spoke to the faith perspective in the room. “As tough as these times are, people are looking to you for hope,” he said. “Confidence and hope: that’s what’s going to turn this around. Attitude is everything.”

Nancy Dougherty talks with Florida Advocacy Days participants about their role in speaking out for those with no voice. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1151.

Nancy Dougherty, a member of Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, was a central organizer of the event. She said her passion for children and advocacy was stirred when she attended her first advocacy event last year.

“All of us are advocates in one way or another,” she said. “If we have a child, we’re an advocate; if we have a friend in need, we’re an advocate.

“How is it that we put a little more tread to what it is that we do? Jesus Christ calls us to be an advocate for those less fortunate than we are, that don’t have the voice, and as Christians, we’re mandated to be advocates for those that don’t have that voice.”

Participants spent several hours visiting legislators March 31, armed with talking points and the knowledge gained from the previous days’ workshops.

“This has been very well organized,” said the Rev. Dan Campbell, pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Holiday. “We’ve met with senators and representatives and been very well received. We learned from our lawmakers that it is very important for them to hear from people in their own districts.”

Katy Ortiz came to Tallahassee from Coral Way United Methodist Church in Miami. “This is my first experience doing something like this, and it’s been a blessing to be here,” she said. “We got to go visit our senator, and we left one of our T-shirts there. We think that’s a good start.”

Florida Advocacy Days participants gathered March 29 for the “Hanging of the Hands” ceremony in the Florida Capitol rotunda during Children's Week, dedicating tens of thousands of paper cutouts of children’s hands decorated by children and teachers from across the state. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1152.

“We come from a tradition of people who have chosen to speak out for the widows and the orphans and the immigrants,” said Melinda Trotti, director of Florida Conference Justice and Spiritual Formation Ministries. “We, today, are being called by our Lord Jesus Christ to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

FAD sponsors included 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.

Florida Advocacy Days video news story

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