Poverty: What every church member should know
by Sherrie Norris
The nondenominational study will be held each week, from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. in Room 123 at Boone United Methodist Church, according to Susan Jones, who will be leading the class with Nancy Reigel and the church's minister of missions, Luke Edwards.
'It's important to stress that this study is open to all faith groups," Jones said, indicating that poverty knows no boundaries and any attempts to eradicate it requires community involvement.
"I have never been a part of a church that wasn't interested in sharing their beliefs with those around them, including those in poverty," Jones said. "Traditionally it has been hard to attract those of different socio-economic groups to churches not of a like socio-economic group. If a church is to be successful in spreading the word to all people, they must understand those that are different from themselves and use that knowledge to reach out in a way that is meaningful to those people."
After the second session of the study, the group will host a poverty simulation, open to the public, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, beginning with a simple meal in the family life center of the church.
"During this event, participants will experience what it's like living on the edge," Jones said. "We will be placing participants in roles of individuals who live in poverty and the situations that they have to deal with on a daily basis -- from family dynamics to the community, in general, including schools, social services, the grocery store, the bank, places of employment -- and jail."
During the simulation, Jones said, participants will "forget who they are," as the event becomes very intense as real-life scenarios come to life.
"Once they've gone through a simulation, "Reigel said, "people, never look at poverty in the same way -- they start to 'get it.'"
Jones and Reigel have not only been though the poverty "model," but they have also been instrumental in bringing a heightened awareness of poverty to Watauga County.
They are currently working to introduce the Circles Campaign to Watauga County.
"Circles is a community-driven nationwide approach to helping people get out of poverty," Reigel said. "By partnering with other people who lend them friendship and support through their transitional process, instead of a handout, these individuals are empowered to set goals for themselves and work toward a positive outcome."
The campaign fosters relationships across racial, economic and faith borders, the women said, that helps inspire people from every economic class to solve poverty in their communities through individual transformation and community change.
Circles evolved though the Move the Mountain Leadership Center 2007, which developed and established a partnership with aha! Process Inc., the organization of Dr. Rubye Payne. Among numerous works on the subject of poverty, Payne co-authored, with Bill Ehlig, "What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty."
Jones and Reigel have also been actively involved in the High Country United Way's three vision councils -- "an evolving process, just as is Circles," Reigel said, and one focused on health, income and education that creates a more definitive way of measuring the organization's community impact.
The role of churches
The poor and the middle class have a lot to teach each other, Jones and Reigel said. Through the upcoming study, the leaders hope to bridge the gap that exists and dispel prejudices and biases that might exist between the two.
"Through this study, we are hoping to help the faith community identify and understand the challenges of poverty," Jones said, "bringing an awareness which, hopefully, will further spread into the entire community."
The Circles program itself is not a faith based program, the women said, but traditionally it has been the faith community that has participated in providing meals for the Circles meetings and, in large part, served as mentors (allies) for the participants. This act of community is important to the melding of the participants into "family," Jones said.
Following an introduction and overview in the class, beginning Oct. 7, the leaders will focus on each chapter of the book, which includes such topics as hidden rules among classes, violence and conflict resolution, from family structure and marital relationships to money, stewardship and spending and church participation.
Class space is limited and early response is suggested. For more information or to register for the class or simulation, contact Susan Jones at (828) 265-8302 or (firstname.lastname@example.org)