Learning Day is designed to provide the staff and leadership of large membership congregations with a unique opportunity for resourcing and development. It is a day devoted to challenging these church leaders by planting seeds of conversation to help expand their understanding, and assist in envisioning new possibilities, empower them in unique ways to implement their learnings in their ministry contexts and communities.
Rev. Larry James, Ordained Elder in North Texas and currently as the CEO of CitySquare, served as the featured speaker and teacher sharing about the work CitySquare, a nonprofit community development organization in East Dallas, committed to helping inner-city residents counter systemic poverty.
Rev. James spoke candidly, honestly, and directly about the long-standing and dramatic effects poverty can have on and throughout an entire community. He expressed that much of what we know about poverty, and those who live with it daily, is predicated on a system designed to keep us disconnected and oblivious regarding the needs of those facing drastic financial circumstances. And that in order for us to solidify ourselves as a progressive community, we need to first acknowledge the poor, the reasons why they experience poverty, and the many obstacles they have to overcome in order to overturn their current circumstances while having a systematically steep disadvantage in our society.
“I firmly believe that if we want to boost our economic infrastructure we have got to invest in the bottom 60%,” said James. He devoted a large portion of his lecture to guiding clergy through the clutter of preconceived notions and stigmas and explore the reasons why people remain in destitution, why they can’t seem to find a compromise, how our economic structure plays a big role in fueling those concepts.
The participants of Learning Day from around the Indiana Conference engaged in a “Poverty Simulation” game — a multi-interactive board game constructed to give players an inside look on the separation of class from a financial vantage point. Color-coded cards are distributed, and depending on the color you’ve been assigned (blue, yellow, green, red) you are either rich, poor, or medium-income household. The object of the game is to find ways to deal with certain life situations in ways that pertain to the color of the cards given to you, or realistically, the money, time, and resources you have available to you.
Some of the comments that followed after the game included, “I noticed that if you had a green card (wealthy) you had more choices.”
“I think for future reference the different cards should start at different levels.”
One pastor said, “There seemed to be a lack of community if you had a red card (poor).”
Another mentioned, “It felt odd as a green player deciding who to advance. I felt guilty about moving ahead. In real life I wouldn’t have noticed that.”
Another stated, “It was very sobering — one step, five steps back.”
The audience all nodded in agreement.
In essence, one of the poignant accomplishments of the Learning Day was that it allowed us the opportunity to shift our perspective and maybe, hopefully went as far as compelling participants to a greater vision ho for how best to begin living into life-giving mission for Jesus Christ, our Indiana Conference’s WIG (wildly important goal).