“Given the budget cuts by states and local governments, especially in programs to alleviate poverty, how might churches help to influence attitudes toward the poor and take action on their behalf?”
That question was the main issue addressed at the June Luncheon Meeting and Round Table Discussion of the Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council. Almost 40 members from different denominations, religions, and service providers for the needy shared lunch and lively discussions at the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church in Costa Mesa, hosted by Rev. Karen Stoyanoff.
“We have Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Mormons, Baha’is, and others involved,” explained Jim de Boom, executive director of the Interfaith Council. “We’re a Heinz-57 of religious groups. We have a little bit of everyone involved so people can share their experiences and we can better understand and respect each other’s religions. We can build bridges and we can all get better at solving problems.”
Jim de Boom has been a member of the organization since 1975, and executive director since 1989.
The stated mission of the Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council is: “A spiritual and ethical force of faith community representatives that enables inter-religious dialogue and service.”
Rev. Julie Elkins, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Costa Mesa and president of the Interfaith Council, welcomed the group to the important discussion on helping those in need.
Greg Kelley, from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Newport Beach and vice president of programs for the Interfaith Council, reminded the eager audience that Round Table Discussions are for the purpose of learning from each other, sharing what is going on in the different faith communities and the unique ways the different congregations are meeting needs. He stressed that everyone was encouraged to share their views and that there are no right or wrong answers.
“It’s an interfaith dialogue, not a political one,” Greg said. “Allow everyone to share, respect each others’ faith position, and remember that nothing is right or wrong.”
Participants at each of the six different tables spent time discussing their experiences, ideas and specific information to increase awareness of, and assistance towards, helping the poor. Then a spokesperson from each table stood and summarized the highlights. It was clear from the energetic discussions that everybody had big hearts eager to help others.
It was repeatedly echoed that the problem of homelessness is far higher in Orange County than most people realize, and increasing at an alarming rate. One statistic was that there are in excess of 50,000 homeless people in Orange County, and of those, 25,000 are students in grades K-12. The term ‘homeless’ also includes motel families, those living in garages, and situations where there are multiple family occupants in single-family units.
There was also clear agreement that charity alone does not solve the problem of poverty, and significant changes and increased social services are needed. Those in attendance learned that a resource to share with those in need is dialing 211 on the phone; 211 is like the 411 for Social Services.
Other general suggestions for any congregation included addressing member’s practical needs in addition to their spiritual ones by providing after school programs for children as well as having job boards or periodic email blasts of available jobs.
Some of the different faiths represented shared some of the specific solutions for those within their own congregations. For instance, Caroline Kline, from the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints in Newport Beach, explained that they have “Fast Offerings” available for the needy in their congregation. Every month members fast for two meals and donate the money they would have spent on the food to the offering. Emam Bermani of the Islamic Education Center of Orange County explained that there is a program in her mosque that helps members get back on their feet by giving them a loan, but not charging interest.
Those from the Christian Science community shared that The Christian Science Monitor publicizes different assistance that it available to the community at large. A representative from the Sikh Center of Orange County was eager to publicize the availability of extra food in their temple available to anybody in need.
Every year the Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council publishes a directory of more than 120 congregations, hundreds of religious leaders and dozens of interfaith contacts for Newport, Costa Mesa and Irvine. These directories are distributed at the local chambers of commerce, city halls and hotel concierge desks. For copies, email [email protected], or for information go to www.nminterfaith.org.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected].