JUST Pensacola - Interfaith Justice Ministry in Escambia County
Author: The Rt Rev. George D. Young, III
On Monday night, November 4, the Rev. Kammy Young described the scene at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola as "a glimpse of heaven on earth - 283 people from 18 congregations all gathered to start a new justice ministry organization- JUST Pensacola: Justice United Seeking Transformation in Pensacola. Thank you God, and so many, many others."
JUST Pensacola is a congregation based organization working in the local community, addressing local community problems under the biblical mandate for justice. A common scripture passage used to inform the mandate is Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
JUST Pensacola is the newest organization in a network that includes 22 similar organizations throughout the U.S. They all have an identical annual process which begins with congregations having house meetings to listen and identify local problems, then a large gathering made up of people from the member congregations voting on which problem or problems to address in the coming year. This was the gathering on November 4.
Once problems are voted on, there is a research phase to identify specific local solutions, as well as ways that other groups have been successful in taking action in similar or related contexts. These solutions are then taken to the local decision makers who are publicly asked - in a gathering called a Nehemiah Action Assembly (see Nehemiah 5) - to commit to making those solutions happen.
Here in Pensacola, the five categories of problems identified were Education, Healthcare, Income Equality, Affordable Housing, and Criminal Justice. The group of almost 300 people overwhelmingly voted for Education and Criminal Justice. The research phase is now underway to focus on specific solutions to address some aspect of these problems. The Nehemiah Action Assembly will be held on Monday, April 27 with the hope of 1000-1500 people gathered to ask local officials to commit to actions identified to make our community better.
My personal involvement with faith-based justice organizations goes back to Jacksonville, FL in the early 2000’s, when I witnessed tremendous success in providing after school childcare for families with children in VPK programs, as well as a unanimous commitment on the part of local hospitals to encourage breast feeding mothers. As Bishop of East Tennessee, I devoted significant time and energy to launching Justice Knox, which in its first year focused on training law enforcement personnel to discern treatment for mentally ill people as alternatives to incarceration.
Since moving to Pensacola, I have been inspired to see so many people and leaders of diverse faith communities working together, meeting together, praying together for the benefit of people in our community. Unfortunately, it’s not often enough that leaders of Episcopal, A.M.E., Baptist, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, Muslim, Roman Catholic and others come together as colleagues - as sisters and brothers, as friends - to work for the common good. Praise God that it’s happening here!
This work and these profound relationships, are certainly a “glimpse of heaven”, and most definitely an example of the Beloved Community that Presiding Bishop Micheal Curry encourages us Episcopalians to be. We covet your support, participation, and prayers as we strive to do what the Lord requires of us:
to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
Photo credit: John Aeschbury. Photo 1: Gathering for JUST Pensacola. Photo 2: Rev. Rick Branch (First United Methodist) - Secretary; Rev. Clifton Riley (Bethel AME) - Co-President; Rev. Michael Hoffman (Christ Episcopal) - Co-President; Rev. Paul Blackmon (1st Baptist Ferry Pass) - Vice President; Rev. Machelle Easley (Escambia Chapel AME) - Treasurer.