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United Methodist conference to address rural poverty

Homes such as this one in east Tennessee can be found throughout rural areas of Appalachia. A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
August 21, 2009 | KINGSPORT, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Clark Jenkins, pastor of First Broad Street United Methodist Church, had the vision for a conference on abolishing poverty in Appalachia.  A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

The Rev. Clark Jenkins wants United Methodists to remember they have a long-standing commitment to the poor living in Appalachia.

The commitment to the Appalachian region was established at the 1972 United Methodist General Conference and renewed during the 2008 gathering of the denomination’s top policy-making body. The 2008 General Conference also adopted poverty as one of four areas of focus for the church to direct its resources and ministries.

Fulfilling the church’s mission inspired Jenkins to organize the first regional conference on "Abolishing Poverty in Appalachia." The conference, to be held at First Broad Street United Methodist Church Sept. 11-12, will train pastors and laity to address poverty and its underlying causes.

The Appalachian region includes 13 states and 23 United Methodist annual (regional) conferences. Forty-two percent of the 24.8 million population is rural, compared to 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Addressing rural poverty has been a mandate for the church for a long time, but hasn’t gotten as much attention as global poverty, said Jenkins, pastor at First Broad Street.  “We want to bring people into the heart of Appalachia to interface with the church here.”

Methodism founder John Wesley ministered to the marginalized in Bristol, England. “Wesley served the poor in a variety of ways as a response to God’s grace through clinics, schools, soup kitchens and other services,” Jenkins added.

First Broad Street feeds more than 100 people each week at its Friendship Diner. The church also chops wood, repairs homes and provides housing and access to health care for the community among other ministries.

Workshops and speakers will focus on the biblical and theological basis for eliminating poverty, the multiple dimensions of poverty, long-term solutions to poverty and congregational models that address poverty and policy change.

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Bishops Hope Morgan Ward, Mississippi Annual Conference, and James Swanson, Holston Conference, will be two of the keynote speakers. John Hill, economic and environmental justice director for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, will lead the discussion on policy changes that effect poverty.

The poor listened to Wesley because he cared about them, Jenkins said. “They will also listen to us if we show the same kind of compassion.”

Co-sponsors of the conference are the Appalachian Ministry Network and the Holston Conference’s Peace with Justice board. The cost for the event is $18 before Aug. 31 and $20 after that date. More information and registration information is available at www.abolishingpoverty.org.

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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