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Meeting aims to move churches from mercy to justice

Craftsman and Afghan refugee Hameed Jafri displays his wares at the 2006 Fair Trade Market at Manchester (Mo.) United Methodist Church. Bazaar founder Kellee Sikes will lead a workshop on fair trade at the Board of Church and Society's "Living Faith Seeking Justice" conference in November. A UMNS photo courtesy of William Brinkhorst.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
July 2, 2007

In second grade, Kellee Sikes met an Ethiopian boy whose brother had been killed and eaten by a lion.

The attack happened as his family fled the African country in hopes of a better life.


"Having him stand up and seeing the tears roll down his face is a memory I will never let go of even if I could," said Sikes.

That friendship sparked a desire in Sikes to seek social justice. By age 27, she had traveled to 29 countries.

"I got to meet and see a nice portion of the world, and I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions and ideas and ways of thinking that just really spurred on this need to figure out a way to love the world," she said.

Now a member of Manchester (Mo.) United Methodist Church, Sikes will be a workshop leader for "Living Faith, Seeking Justice," a Nov. 1-4 conference in Fort Worth, Texas, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social action agency.

The event features speakers, workshops, exhibits and activities designed to teach and preach the United Methodist Social Principles. It aims to train and equip individuals and churches to live out justice that transforms the world in the ways of Jesus Christ.

"Equipping congregations to move from mercy to justice will be the focus of the conference," said Jim Winkler, top executive of the board. "We want to hold a different type of event rather than a legislative briefing in order to lift up justice ministries in local churches and annual conferences with the expectation this can provide support and encouragement to others."

From mercy to justice

Winkler points to Manchester United Methodist Church's Fair Trade Market as how one church can move from mercy to justice.


Kellee Sikes

Under Sikes' leadership, the Missouri church started the market that takes place each November. Last year, the event raised $75,000 and drew an attendance of approximately 4,000 people from the community.

"I’m very grateful to that congregation and its leadership because it really gave me quite an opportunity to be able marry my social justice passions and volunteer work to the corporate work I do," said Sikes, who own her own consulting business.

"I believe fair trade really does quantify a lot of our Christian beliefs in a consumerism capacity that makes sense. There is a way for an American to have a comfortable life without it having to be at the expense of someone else."

Another example cited by Winkler is the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz, Calif., which is constructing an eco-friendly church building to reflect good stewardship of the earth. Among other things, the design includes solar panels rather than a tile roof and a parking lot that absorbs water rather than sending runoff into storm drains.

The church is among the first United Methodist churches in the United States to "go green" from the ground up. Construction on the $8 million project is scheduled to begin in August and is targeted for completion by the end of 2008.

The Rev. Hilde Marie Øgreid, a pastor in Norway, wants European United Methodists in particular to participate in the conference. "When justice is threatened anywhere in the world, it is the responsibility of the whole of our global church to do something about it," said Øgreid, a member of the conference design team.

"In Europe, we are a minority church. We are used to explaining what a Methodist is, and we might feel that our impact on society is very small. To spend a few days then with 1,000 Methodists from other parts of the world is inspiring, encouraging and awakening. We can and we do make a difference!" Øgreid said.

Sharing solutions

Conference workshops will be grouped into five categories: health and wholeness, gender justice, peace with justice, economic and environmental justice, and civil and human rights.

"Conference participants can expect the workshops to be experiential and interactive, giving them an opportunity not only to hear what the workshop leader has to say but also to share their own experiences and to hear from others," said event coordinator Wanda Holcolme.


Jim Winkler

Organizers aim for every part of the conference to follow the collective call to faith and justice. For example, the conference bags have been made by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, and the meals will be healthy and built around using sustainable, renewable resources.

The event will include a "cityscape" showcasing art that reflects justice, and site visits to several ministries that illustrate a commitment to justice.

"Violence abounds from the Middle East to the campus of Virginia Tech," said Winkler. "How do congregations participate in helping to provide an alternative—a vision of a just and peaceful society—and then act together to carry out that vision? That’s what this conference will give people a chance to do. Everyone who gathers in Fort Worth will have an opportunity to hear, learn and discuss solutions."

Speakers include United Methodist ministers, activists and others working to bring justice to their communities, countries and the world:

  • Shane Claiborne, a founding member of The Simple Way, a community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world;
  • The Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives;
  • The Rev. Adam Hamilton, minister at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., who believes the church must serve as a conscience to the community and state;
  • The Rev. Chebon Kernell, a pastor and member of the Oklahoma Missionary Conference, which was instrumental in organizing "Rock the Native Vote";
  • The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, dean of students at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., and a recipient of the Denman Award for evangelism;
  • Mercy Amba Oduyoye, an African theologian, feminist and activist who works to ensure that women's voices and concerns are heard in African society;
  • Harold Recinos, professor of church and society at the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, who has written widely on the church's call to engage the world;
  • Elizabeth Tapia, director of the Drew Center for Christianities in Global Context at the Drew University School of Theology, Madison, N.J., and an ordained elder of the Bulacan Philippines Annual Conference;
  • The Rev. Janet Wolf, director of public policy and community organizing for a national interfaith coalition working to challenge U.S. drug policy with a focus on restorative justice, harm reduction and alternatives to incarceration; and
  • The Rev. Michael Yoshii, a clergyman and activist who works for justice in Alameda, Calif.

To learn more or to register, visit www.umc-gbcs.org/livingfaith.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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