A small but sturdy contingent of United Methodists gathered at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg Wednesday, June 24, to help persuade legislators to increase and apportion more fairly the state’s inadequate funding for public education. While some came Saturday, June 20, for an interfaith prayer service to begin a 10-day public fast as a witness for education justice, others came to the mid-week rally to participate in worship, dialogue, more prayer and visits to legislators’ offices.
On Tuesday hundreds of parents, students, school teachers and administrators, and faith leaders had crowded into the Rotunda of the Capitol building to urge legislators to increase education funding. Advocates want the state to dedicate an additional $3.6 billion to Pennsylvania schools, far more than the $400 million in additional funding proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf this year. Organized by the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, they listened to statements supporting a proposed school funding formula worked on by the bi-partisan Basic Education Funding Commission, that would consider factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students and charter-school payments.
Statistics show a stark difference in the quality of education among Pennsylvania schools in different areas. The state has the widest gap in per-student funding between rich and poor districts in the nation.
Different faith groups have been invited to come lead faith-based social witness activities during a 10-day fasting period in which the state assembly is expected to debate and vote on education funding bills. June 24 was the day for United Methodists to lead, along with others who joined them.
“It was natural for United Methodists to take part in this effort to focus attention on the need to have a fair education funding formula in Pennsylvania,” said the Rev. Dai Morgan (left), Coordinator of United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania. “The 2012 United Methodist Book of Resolutionsrecommends engaging in activity for this purpose (paragraph 5051, section IV, point 15). And with the June 18 release of the letter from the three Pennsylvania bishops urging fair public school funding, it was almost mandated that we use this opportunity to take action.”
Among those attending were the Rev. Kipp Gilmore-Clough, associate pastor of Chestnut Hill United Church, and Cathy Carroll, a Philadelphia school teacher and member of Lighthouse Fellowship UMC in Glenside. Also participating was the Rev. Lawrence Henryhand, Presiding Elder of the AME Church’s Harrisburg District, the Rev. Yvette Davis, a former Eastern PA Conference staff member and now pastor of Grace UMC Harrisburg, and members of the grassroots social justice organization POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild). Davis’ church, Grace UMC, located near the Capitol, served as host church for the gathering
About two dozen attendees, many of them fasting, came and went throughout the day. Participants from various faith traditions and racial backgrounds did a “Jericho walk” into the State Capitol to visit legislators’ offices, including United Methodist lawmakers. They prayed for the legislature and its decision-making, and invited lawmakers to visit their tent outside and join them in prayer, singing and worship, according to Margaret Ernst, a spokesperson for POWER.
“On this very busy day, we engaged in worship, teaching, singing, dialogue and visitation,” said Morgan, a Pittsburgh-area pastor who led the prayer service and taught about the UMC Social Principles. He also offered a homily and read the three Pennsylvania UMC bishops’ recent letter urging advocacy for increased and fairly distributed school funding. “It was all performed with a spirit of courtesy, respect and love. United Methodism was represented well, today.
“By participating in this ongoing Moral Takeover for Fair Funding,” Morgan continued, “we have an opportunity to not only connect among our three Pennsylvania United Methodist Conferences, but also to connect with likeminded people from other Christian traditions, as well as with people from Jewish and Islamic traditions. It seems to me that building ecumenical and interfaith bridges, based on issues on which we can agree, is a very healthy process. And it is more than a side benefit. By joining together we increase our potential to influence the political process.”
By John W. Coleman, Eastern PA Conference Communications Director
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Top photo: The Rev. Kipp Gilmore-Clough (left) and Cathy Carroll, a Philadelphia school teacher and member of Lighthouse Fellowship UMC in Glenside, join others in prayer in the office of Rep. Dave Reed, House Majority Leader. (All photos by Margaret Ernst)