NCC Sponsored Interfaith Worship to Attract Thousands

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Thousands are expected to attend the anti-poverty interfaith worship service and strategy effort sponsored by the National Council of Churches, Jan. 30-31 in Columbia, S.C.

The event coincides with the eve of the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary and presidential candidates’ forum, which are all focused on ending poverty and economic injustice.

Several hundred of the attendants are from out of state, including 32 seminarians from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and 14 from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass

The events are part of a larger mobilization project by the NCC, to activate two million new and infrequent voters by the time of general election in November.

"Millions of people in America are hurting," promotional materials for the event note. "National priorities must include affordable housing; children's programs and education; affordable, nutritious food; access to health care, and good jobs at good wages. Grassroots groups and faith-based communities across America are protesting our Government's misplaced priorities and challenging presidential candidates of both parties to address the long-standing neglect of economic issues that affect families in every community."

The details of the 2-day event as posted by the NCC are as follows.

Jan. 30: People's Agenda for Economic Justice, Featuring Dialogue with Presidential Candidates.

An 8:30 a.m. march from the Adams Mark Hotel, 1200 Hampton St., to The Township Auditorium, 1803 Taylor St., will kick off the morning's activities. Grassroots and faith-based groups will carry banners and signs. R&B artist Will Downing and screenwriter James Kearns are confirmed to be among the national and local celebrities and officials who will open the forum -- fully expected to overflow the 3,200-seat auditorium, organizers said. Admission is free, but please note: this is a ticketed event, and most tickets are committed. (More information: 212-870-2298.)

Beginning at 11 a.m., nationally syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner will moderate the "Presidential Dialogue with America's Working Families," during which people living in poverty will share their stories and post questions one on one to candidates, marking the first time a dialogue with the candidates will be held directly with working poor people. All the Democratic candidates for President are expected; President Bush has been invited but has not yet replied. Candidates will be challenged to place issues of poverty and economic justice high on their campaign agendas.

The candidates' forum is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change, a national nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance, training and policy support to low-income community groups. The National Council of Churches (the nation's leading ecumenical organization, whose 36 member denominations count 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations nationwide) and other bodies are participating in the forum.

The Center for Community Change reports that the "Presidential Dialogue with America's Working Families" will be aired live on the Columbia, S.C., NBC-TV affiliate, WIS-TV, which reaches 70 percent of the state. SCE-TV's digital subscribers also will be able to watch live; SCE-TV also plans to tape the dialogue for later airing, as does C-SPAN. MSNBC.com is planning to Webcast segments.

Jan. 30: "Get on the Bus and Get Out the Vote" Effort.

Friday afternoon (12:30 to 4 p.m.) will feature a massive get-out-the-vote effort in Columbia, S.C., and beyond. Volunteers will go door to door and to high-traffic areas, staff phone banks and participate in issue forums, then regroup around 4 p.m. at the Adams Mark Hotel for debriefing.

Jan. 30: Interfaith Worship Service, 7:30 p.m., Washington Street United Methodist Church

At 7 p.m., religious leaders in liturgical attire will gather at the Adams Mark Hotel and lead a procession to Washington Street United Methodist Church, 1401 Washington St., for an interfaith worship service focused on poverty and economic justice. The 7:30 p.m. service will feature participation by several religious traditions, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Unitarian, with readings, liturgy and prayers from their traditions on economic justice. The Rev. Daryl Jackson of Bibleway Baptist Church will preach. Special music will be offered by the Benedict College Choir and by social activist and performer Si Kahn from North Carolina. The service will include testimonies by people of faith living in poverty -- and working to end it.

The service is sponsored by the National Council of Churches and being planned in collaboration with local groups. Said the Rev. Paul Sherry, Coordinator of the NCC's Poverty Mobilization, "What we hope to do is demonstrate the deep commitment within the major faiths for economic justice and for ending poverty in this land -- in other words, to demonstrate the spiritual basis for working to end poverty. You can't be a committed person of faith and not be committed to ending poverty and working for economic justice. Spirituality without this commitment is a weak spirituality."

Jan. 31: Day-Long Meeting to Plan Faith Community Follow Up Against Poverty.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Adams Mark Hotel, at least 80-100 people will meet for "Faith Mobilization Against Poverty," to plan future work to end hunger, poverty and economic injustice in the United States. The meeting is being planned by the National Council of Churches Mobilization to Overcome Poverty and the Center for Community Change.

The opening will be followed by a panel conversation moderated by the Rev. Sherry on "why we are losing on issues of poverty, how to reclaim the moral ground on issues of poverty and how our faith demands that we engage these issues." There will be specific presentations on voter education and registration, state tax and budget fairness, living and minimum wages and more. The Rev. Sherry will lead the concluding discussion (1:40 to 2:40 p.m.) on "Where do we go from here? The role of the National Council of Churches and its Poverty Mobilization." The meeting will conclude with worship.