Advocacy for Social Justice Blog: Taking Care of the Children

12/2/2013

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a holy moment I experienced in April 1999.  I was visiting my godmother, Mary Lib Lowery, a diaconal minister loved by many in the North Alabama Conference, as she lay near her earthly death in the hospital.  Cancer.  It had eaten away a lot of her face, but it couldn’t break her amazing and generous spirit!  Many of us who loved her and sat with her during her last week spoke, and still speak, of how she ministered to us during those final days. 

My most holy moment with her occurred when just the two of us were in the room.  We knew it might be our last visit, and so we both took extra time to speak loving thoughts.  As I stood to leave, she squeezed my hand, looked me in the eye with her dark brown, full-of-light, eyes and said, “Melissa, honey, take care of the children.  They need you.”  I promised her I would do my best, and I left her room – for the last time, it turns out – nearly dizzy from the fullness of her loving charge to me.

And isn’t taking care of the children what Jesus Christ calls all of us adults to be about?  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes a little child and says to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me.  Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.  Whoever is least among you all is the greatest.”  So, why do so many adults in Alabama, and in the U.S., have so much trouble remembering what it means to welcome a child, to care for a child, even if that child is not their own flesh and blood?

You likely know the severe statistics about children in Alabama.  Here are a few to challenge us all: 

  • In 2013, more than 300,000 children live in poverty (and nearly one-half of children live in extreme poverty, which is 30-50% below federal poverty standards).*  That’s enough children to fill more than FOUR Alabama or Auburn football stadiums. 
     
  • In 2013, we are 50th (of 51 states and the District of Colombia) for infant mortality rates; and in the amount of time it took me to write this blog post, at least one child has been abused or neglected in Alabama.
     
  • In 2013, the average freshman high school graduation rate is 71.8%, and Alabama ranks 41st in per pupil expenditures.  (*http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/)

To follow the commissions of our beloved, Mary Lib Lowery, and of Jesus Christ, we must do something MORE and now to take care of God’s younger children.  We have a unique opportunity to gather with Methodists around the world in 2014.  Bishop Wallace-Padgett has appointed me to be the NAC’s liaison to the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty.  The Campaign was conceived and is directed by my seminary mentor and friend, Rev. Dr. Luther Smith, and I look forward to engaging leaders in our Conference as we try to do something MORE for children in the NAC and beyond who are struggling because of poverty.  I invite you to visit www.panmethodistcampaignforchildren.org, and I hope and pray we step up our actions and speak up for policies that benefit children and their families.

Rev. Melissa Self Patrick
 

The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at rg.lyons@umcna.org.


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