Last evening I attended the annual assembly of BREAD – Building Responsibility, Equality, And Dignity. Many of you know this better than I, but in case not: BREAD is a county wide interfaith organization that selects one pressing social issue per year on which to try and make a significant positive impact. Issues of past years include immigration, pay day lending, housing, and restorative justice in the juvenile courts. One of the (many) speakers at last evening’s assembly was Judge Elizabeth Gill who has been helping form Community Restorative Circles which work with first time offending juveniles to help them repair the harm they have done to their victim and the community – a restorative rather than purely punitive approach. Good theology.
The annual assembly is the gathering in which the issue for the coming year is chosen. Columbus Mennonite is one fifty-ish BREAD congregations – Protestant and Catholic; Jew and Gentile; black, brown, and white. The opening speaker reflected on the need for the faith community to claim its power – not the power of money influence, but its power of people influence – and, I would add, moral power. The speaker emphasized our need for power to do the work of justice. Micah 6:8 is a favorite of the organization: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.” A common cheer throughout the evening involved the speaker saying “BREAD,” and everyone else saying “Rises.”
I have been participating in some BREAD clergy gatherings, but this was my first larger gathering to attend and, as a first timer, I was impressed. Having a group like this all in the same room, a large sanctuary in this case, a little over 500 people last night, is certainly powerful. Unitarians, Catholics, Jews, and Baptists do not often do this together.
The three issues being voted on last night were crime/violence/drugs, mental health, and education. Mental health got the most votes and will be the focus for the next year, with a research committee and others looking at specific ways that BREAD can advocate for positive changes in this community.
The big event for BREAD is in the spring – Monday, May 12, at 7pm, to be precise. This is when the work of the year culminates with each congregation attempting to turn out the largest number of people possible to the Nehemiah Action night. Elected officials and policy makers are also invited. Last year over 3000 people came to Nehemiah, and BREAD has the goal of a 7000 person turnout in two years. To achieve the goal, each congregation is supposed to bring as many people as worship on an average Sunday morning. That’s 150+ for Columbus Menno.
BREAD is one of the very concrete and local ways CMC is involved in justice making and I’m excited for us to be involved in its work.