Faith-based, advocacy group forming in Capital City

‘It’s past time for us to get beyond the walls of our churches’

Celebrating that one’s faith has a legitimate claim in public decision-making, Faith Voices For Jefferson City intends to educate and equip the average resident to speak up.

More than 300 people from varying denominations and religions are expected to attend its founding convention “Claim the Dream” at 7 p.m. Thursday at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, 415 Lafayette St.

City and state officials have been invited to the convention, where the Rev. John Gaydos, Jefferson City Diocese bishop, will be the keynote speaker.

It is not a town-hall format, neither a place for grieved people to yell nor a stump for a politician, said Katie Jansen Larson, director of organizing. “This is about building a stronger community, where love is demonstrated in public action,” Larson said.

Jefferson City’s concerned faith leaders were invited to a statewide round table with clergy and lay leaders in Kansas City a few years ago. Missouri Faith Voices was formed, and then Jefferson City Congregations Uniting took shape not long after.

Thursday’s founding convention will do more than establish the more accurate name as Faith Voices for Jefferson City. It marks the beginning of something new in Jefferson City, said organizer the Rev. Michelle Scott-Huffman.

“We want to be a voice for folks in Jefferson City and beyond,” said the Rev. David Henry. “We focus on needs such as social equality, economic dignity and opportunities for people to realize their potential.”

Many local congregations formally have joined Faith Voices, but many members are individuals, not officially representing a body of worship.

Members include those without cars, jobs or health insurance.

“We’re not just speaking for them; they join their voices with ours,” Henry said.

Leadership development is a big part of the Faith Voices agenda, Larson said.

“The average person needs to feel comfortable walking into a legislator’s office,” she said. “They are experts because they live the reality.”

Often that requires education and encouragement.

The same is true of overcoming the overused concept of the separation of church and state.

“We’ve become a nation divided by its faith and politics,” Henry said. “We need to understand the role of people of faith. Our faith has to be voiced, it does influence our stance on moral issues and political stands.”

What Faith Voices promotes is not new.

“We’re reclaiming the space that belongs to everyone,” said the Rev. Cassandra Gould, convention host. “In the past, the church was in the public square.”

During the civil rights movement, most of the organizing took place in church basements, she noted.

“It’s past time for us to get beyond the walls of our churches,” Gould continued.

Faith Voices works to empower people of God, but the group does not adhere to a single political or theological line.

For some time, churches have found themselves “picking up the pieces of a failed infrastructure,” Larson said. “This effort is to say we want to do more than pick up the pieces; there are too many needs we can’t meet. We want to play a role in preventing those needs.”

Faith Voices similarly wants to respond now rather than scrambling after the harm has been done, agreed the Rev. Cassandra Gould.

At each monthly meeting — 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday at the Schwartze Catholic Center, 2207 W. Main St. — a leadership training will be offered after the discussion of issues.

Unlike many trainings which send people away only with an emotional high, Faith Voices equips members to funnel their passion into action, Gould noted.

Key issues at the moment include seeing a public transportation commission established locally and expansion of Medicaid across the state. And later this year they expect to be involved with the early voting initiative.

In the past, the local group has been involved with efforts to cap payday loan rates and to raise the minimum wage.

Those who have joined Faith Voices of Jefferson City bring a variety of theological beliefs and backgrounds. But what they have in common is an imperative grounded in their individual beliefs to take action on behalf of and alongside other humans with needs.

“The whole point of our faith is liberation … from (things) that keep them from being what God created them to be,” Scott-Huffman said.

You can go

More than 300 are expected to attend the “Claim the Dream” Founding Convention of Faith Voices For Jefferson City at 7 p.m. Thursday at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, 415 Lafayette St.

The Rev. John Gaydos, Jefferson City Diocese bishop, will be the keynote speaker.

Parking is at Jason Gym, 809 Lafayette St., with shuttle service provided.

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