UMC Churches Respond to Chicago Strike

As union leaders meet and teachers remain on strike in Chicago, some congregations in the city are opening their doors to help with childcare and other needs.

Congregations in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church have helped with looking after some of the many children kept at home due to the schools being closed. Sally Dyck, bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, released a statement on Tuesday encouraging prayer for the school officials and the children.

"I am calling on United Methodists to be in prayer for our public schools in all our communities across this conference," wrote Dyck. "I encourage all United Methodist churches to find a way to be in partnership with the public schools in your area, especially those who need it most."

Rather than take a side in the debate, Bishop Dyck explained in her statement that however the strike may end it will "impact" a great deal of people.

"The Chicago Public Schools is the third largest public school system in the U.S. As a large and complex system, its issues are heightened but they are the same in most school systems across Illinois and even throughout the country," wrote Dyck.

"The outcome of this strike may well have impact on how other school systems resolve their economics, politics and educational reform initiatives."

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), told The Christian Post that he felt the position of the Northern Illinois Conference was well balanced.

"They are right not to take sides politically during the teachers' strike but instead to focus on ministry," said Tooley. "Churches should pray for a resolution that protects children, fosters quality education, and encourages competent teachers."

According to Tooley, the United Methodist Church has had a lengthy history of working alongside labor unions, having endorsed them in the 1908 Methodist Social Creed.

"Some bishops and other church leaders especially in the north worked closely with labor unions and were fierce advocates of unions. Up through the late 20th century there was ongoing political collaboration between church leaders and labor unions," said Tooley.

"But as both the denomination and labor unions have lost members and declined in importance in recent decades, that cooperation and support have decreased."

The Chicago teachers union launched a citywide strike on Monday, resulting in the closing of the classrooms that hold over 350,000 students.

The root cause of the strike involve failed negotiations between the union and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel surrounding issues like salary increases, hiring, and rehiring practices.

In an interview with the United Methodist News Service, the Rev. Ramon Nieves of Humboldt Park United Methodist Church explained that this aid regarding childcare was part of the church's outreach.

"This week … we are also ministering to their children who are not in school due to the strike. Our doors have been opened for all children who need a place," said Nieves.

"…because the church has a responsibility to be educators, too, to its children and its community. We also have teachers who are members of the church, who are leaders in our congregation. We are committed to supporting them through this time."

According to the UMNS, the last Chicago teachers union strike was 25 years ago and lasted 19 days.

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