By April Johnson, minister of reconciliation
“The United States is a mere five percent of the world population yet it hosts 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”
On more than one occasion this statistic was invoked to frame the content of the captivating plenary sessions, workshops and fellowship opportunities at this year’s annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days. The three-day event brought 1000 faith advocates from across the nation and globe to converge in Washington, DC for the purpose of education, capacity-building and lobbying. Each year the event centers its focus on a social justice theme requiring action. This year’s theme: Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation explored the intersections of over-criminalization and incarceration of vulnerable communities both here and abroad.
Disciples represented a significant presence at Ecumenical Advocacy Days this year providing compelling contributions to the conference program. Reconciliation Ministry along with ecumenical partners from the United Church of Christ and the Church of Christ facilitated equipping workshops on anti-racism. The National Benevolent Association jointly with our colleagues from the United Church of Christ and Disciples justice ministries* hosted a generous reception welcoming fellow advocates both communions and their guests. New relationships were born and trailblazers in ministry were celebrated.
Following the reception, NBA’s Prison Ministries presented a program entitled, “Reducing Recidivism: The Church Responds to Mass Incarceration.” The program was moderated by our own Rev. Dean Bucalos, mission specialist for Prison and Jail Ministries of NBA and featured practitioners from Prison Congregations of America, Healing Communities and our own In the Spirit Christian Church in Tulsa, OK. Models were shared that described establishing prison congregations, how to provide for care and nurture for returning citizens, as well as how to prepare your own congregation to be “Stations of Hope” in communities impacted by mass incarceration. At the end of the program one participant stated, “I wonder what has taken my church so long. This is what we need to be doing in our community.” Related webinars
The EAD conference concludes each year with a lobby day on Capitol Hill. After attending ecumenical worship and numerous workshops, participants took their “ask” to their Congressional representatives. Several members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) met with their respective legislators to request 1) Congress adopt pending legislation that provides for 1) criminal justice reform eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing and 2) eliminate bed quotas for immigrant detention and provide for humane alternative for detaining immigrant.
Attending and providing leadership at Ecumenical Advocacy Days is an ongoing tradition for Disciples. Joining this broad collegium of national and global advocacy is our concrete witness to our mission and passion for justice. Our leadership at EAD this year is just one of many expressions of embracing Jesus’ charge in Matthew 25 “When I was _____, you _______ me .” When you fill in the blanks, Disciples are there providing compassion, justice and action.