Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Malawi Projects Near Completion

Mzuzu United Methodist Church nears completion
[December 2012 photo; camera date in error]
Friends of WorldHope Corps,

We need your help next week to complete our 2012 mission pledges and projects in Malawi:

1.  The new sanctuary of Mzuzu United Methodist Church will be dedicated on Sunday, Jan 13.

2.  The grand opening of the new Hope House (for educational support) occurs on Saturday, Jan. 12.

3.  Five of the ten new Village Wells we drilled in 2012 will be celebrated with villagers.

4.  The Mzuzu Shalom Zone Committee will assemble for training and planning.

You can participate by adding your name to the list of sponsors who have supported these community development projects this year, at whatever level you are able to do!
Rhempi Village Well (one of ten in 2012)

$250 pays for church furniture in the new sanctuary or furnishings in the new vocational training wing.

$500 pays for a young person to go to Vocational or Secondary School in Mzuzu for a year.

$10,500 pays for a new deep water village well for several thousand villagers

$100 pays for more chickens and pigs in the Mzuzu Shalom Zone economic development venture.

I leave for Malawi on Monday, January 7, for Malawi for 10 days, and I'd like to bring with me new names of sponsors for our four active projects in Mzuzu.

Please consider a year-end gift to WorldHope Corps through PayPal 
or by mailing a check today!

There is still time to make your 2012 tax deductible gift toWorldHope Corps, Inc.

Thank you so much for your generosity and support over the years!

Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
WorldHope Corps, Inc.
P.O. Box 295
Madison, NJ 07940
Hope Tailoring School vocational students 2012

Laird-Christensen Christmas Letter 2012

From our House to Yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Laird-Christensens:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


PREDICTION: On December 21, 2012, when the Long Count calendar ends, a rare Galactic alignment of the Sun and the Milky Way will take place. This only happens once every 26,000 years.

FACT: On the solstice of December 21, 2012, the Sun, as seen from the Earth, will be crossing the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy near its center. This type of alignment of the path of the Sun with the plane of our Galaxy takes place every year; thus, it is not very special.

The alignment of the Sun with our Galaxy on the December solstice happens more rarely. This more rare alignment occurs during a 400 consecutive year period, and within every precession cycle of 25,772 years. This is thus somewhat more special. This image shows a planetarium view of the sky illustrating the Sun’s position on December 21, 2012, the date of the solstice. The image reflects what the sky will look like at noon on that day, at the latitude of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, México. At midday, the Sun will be high in the sky, and projected against the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way will not be visible behind the glare of the Sun of course, but the planetarium image is intended to demonstrate the alignment of the Sun with the band of the Milky Way Galaxy. There is some evidence in the archaeological record that the ancient Maya may have known about the astronomical phenomenon of precession. It is possible that the ancient Maya set the beginning of the Long Count, so that the 13-baktun cycle would complete on the December solstice of 2012. At this time, the Sun will be crossing the Milky Way, the road of the Maya ancestors in the sky.
A diagram of the Milky Way universe.Section content adapted from material provided by Dr. Bryan Mendez of UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory.  Published in Smithsonian e-magazine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hope Tailoring School update

This update and photos just came in from our partner in Malawi, Rev. Copeland Nkhata:

Rev Michael

Attached are photos for the economic empowerment classes at Hope Tailoring School hosted by Mzuzu United Methodist Church.

The first three photos depict mastering of Task No 1, Task No 2 and Task No 3 of the new class 2012/2013.  This will be the fourth such class to come through the program we began in 2008.

The first three photos depict mastering of Task No 1, Task No 2 and Task No 3 of the new class 2012/2013.  This will be the fourth such class to come through the program we began in 2008.
Fourth Class oh Hope Tailoring School

Hope Tailoring School is hosted by Muzu UMC in Malawi

Some Hope Scholarship Recipients completing
an educational course in Business Management

The fourth picture is of some of the second year students of  our Business Management class which takes exams with the Board in England.
When time allows me I will send pictures for First year students of Business Management and the High School students who received Hope Scholarships.


Rev. Copeland Nkhata.
Mzuzu United Methodist Church
P.O. Box 1015
Mzuzu, Malawi.
cell +265 884 006 432
Hope Tailoring School is a project of WorldHope Corps.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Green Village UMC and Malawi

 Dr. Michael Christensen, Director of Communities of Shalom
for the United Methodist Church, Rev. Clarissa
South Holland, Pastor of Green Village United Methodist Church, Dennis Singini, Guest preacher and Regional Shalom Trainer in Malawi

The United Methodist Church in Green Village was delighted to welcome Dennis Singini, Regional Shalom Trainer For Communities of Shalom International, to her pulpit on July 1, 2012. We were also pleased to have the Director of Communities of Shalom, Dr. Michael Christensen in worship. Communities of Shalom is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, located at Drew University, that focuses on "neighborhood revitalization and community transformation." Dr. Michael Christensen, Director of Communities of Shalom for the United Methodist Church describes shalom as "more than a Jewish way of saying hello, shalom is more than 'peace' as the absence of conflict. Shalom means health, healing, harmony, wholeness, well-being, and shared prosperity in our community."  Pastor Singini shared with the Green Village United Methodist Church that his "job" is to bring shalom to his community by providing basic necessities like food, clean water, and medical care to the people of Malawi. The United Methodist Women of Green Village collected yarn to send home with Dennis for church women to use to help support their families and orphans in Mzuzu. 

Submitted by: Rev. Clarissa South Holland 973-822-2764 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

At work today in the Henri Nouwen Archives

Michael Christensen reviews Henri Nouwen's Original Journals in Archives
The Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives &  Research Collection at the University of Toronto (St. Michael's College) is a warm and welcoming place.

This is my 4th visit to the Archives to review unpublished journals and manuscripts by Henri Nouwen (my professor at Yale) so that Rebecca Laird and I can complete the developmental editing of the third and final volume in the Spiritual Trilogy being published by HarperCollins.

These posthumous books by Nouwen are based on his courses on Christian Spirituality at Yale and Harvard, and his unpublished manuscripts and journals.  The series moves from questions to movements to connections:

Volume One is on  Spiritual Direction:  Living the Questions of the Spiritual Life  (available now)
Volume Two is on  Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (available now)
Volume Three is on Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life (scheduled for release in 2013)

Jessica Barr, Archives Assistant, with Michael Christensen in Special Collections, Kellly Library

Volume Two of the Spiritual Trilogy is available

Henri Nouwen, the world-renowned spiritual guide and counselor, understood the spiritual life as a journey of faith and transformation that is deepened by accountability, community, and relationships. Though he counseled many people during his lifetime, his principles of spiritual formation were never written down. Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird have taken his famous course in spiritual formation and supplemented it with his unpublished writings to create the definitive series on Nouwen’s thoughts on the Christian life.

Spiritual Formation, showcases Nouwen’s life-long effort to re-construct the five classical stages of spiritual development as movements in the journey of faith. The five classical stages are these:
1. Awakening (our desire)
2. Purgation (purifying our passions)
3. Illumination (of God)
4. Dark Night (of the Soul)
5. Unification (with God)

Readings, stories, questions for personal reflection, and guided journal inquiry as articulated by Nouwen will provide readers with an experience in spiritual formation with the well-known author, priest, and guide.

HENRI J. M. NOUWEN (1932-1996) was the author of With Open Hands, Reaching Out, The Wounded Healer, Making All Things New, and many other bestsellers. He taught at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame universities before becoming the senior pastor of L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, a community where men and women with intellectual disabilities and their assistants create a home for one another.
MICHAEL J. CHRISTENSEN, PH.D., is national director of Communities of Shalom at Drew University, where he teaches spirituality and practical theology. He studied with Henri Nouwen at Yale Divinity School.
REBECCA LAIRD, M.A., D. MIN., is the associate professor of Christian ministry at Point Loma Nazarene University where she teaches spiritual formation and Christian ministry.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Four Ministers of Shalom: Baaumu Moses, Dennis Singini, Gaius Charles and Julius Kasaija

Pastor Clarissa Holland hosted a BBQ this afternoon at her home in honor of Pastor Dennis Singini (from Mzuzu, Malawi), Pastor Baaumu Moses (from Jinja, Uganda) and Mr. Julius Kasaija (from Western Uganda).

All three men were certified this week by Drew Theological School as Regional Shalom Trainers. All three work directly with children and families HIV/AIDS in their countries.   And all three represent ministry supported by WorldHope Corps, Inc.

At the BBQ for WorldHope Corps donors and friends, they expressed deep gratitude for their partners in ministry, and new friends they met this week in NJ and NYC.  This was their first trip to the USA, thanks to their generous sponsors who made it possible to receive Shalom Training.

Green Village UMC Welcomes Dennis Singini

Dr. Michael Christensen, Rev. Clarissa Holland and Pastor Dennis Singini

The United Methodist Church in Green Village, NJ, welcomed Pastor Dennis Singini to their Pulpit today for Communion Sunday.

Dennis, a circuit-riding pastor in Malawi, is program coordinator for CitiHope Malawi, in charge of food[1] and medical distributions and HIV/AIDS training for churches[2].  

Dennis also works for WorldHope Corps in Malawi on its Well-rig crew, drilling deep-water wells for villages without a clean water supply (see previous posts).

And Dennis also serves as a Regional Shalom Trainer in Malawi for Communities of Shalom International, based at Drew University.  He was in NJ this week as part of Drew’s certification program for regional Shalom Trainers meeting at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association for their annual 36-hour Training of Trainers event.

He shared today with the Green Village congregation about “What God is doing in Malawi” in relation to 2 Cor. 8:7-15 and Gal 3:28. 

The 2 Corinthians passage refers to the “Manna Provision” in Exodus, about how “those who gathered much did not gather too much, and those who gathered little did not gather too little, so that all had what they needed.”  (Exo 16:18)

In Northern Malawi, Dennis explained, “there are families who went to church this morning without having anything to eat today. There are villages without a clean water source, where a shallow well or a stream [with contaminated water] is the only place to go.  A dog will drink from this stream, a cow will drink from this stream, and children will drink from this same stream.”[3]  In his role as overseeing pastor of 11 small, poor congregations in remote villages, Dennis sees first hand “how farmers don’t even harvest enough for their own families.”

Galatians 3:28, Dennis reminded us today, “says that there is no Jew or Gentile, there is no Male or Female, there is no Slave of Free, but we are one in Christ Jesus.  Therefore we should care about each other and love each other equally in Christ.  I’m sure none of you have had to sleep with farm animals; none of you have had to eat grain with chickens, just because you were HIV positive.  But I tell you; this is what is happening in Malawi.  And we who are Christians should love each other, and accept each other, even if we have HIV.”

Rev. Clarissa Holland, Pastor of the UMC in Green Village, emphasized the desperate conditions in Malawi, and how the orphan care and feeding center she visited a few years on a WorldHope Corps mission trip recently closed because they ran out of food and funds. She urged members and friends to literally ‘share their food with the hungry.’  

You can literally save lives by helping Dennis with his ministry to families affected by HIV/AIDS, to children without enough food to eat, and to villagers without clean water.  You can contribute online to or by sending a charitable gift to the following address:  

WorldHope Corps, Inc.
P.O. Box 295
Madison, NJ 07940

[1] CitiHope’s Food for Peace, funded by USAID, is a nutritional Dehydrated Vegetable Soup supplement distributed to HIV orphans and other vulnerable children and families in northern Malawi.

[2] Pastoral and Congregational Training Care Training (PACCT) recently received a $10,00 grant from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund for their outstanding, church-based, HIV/AIDS training in rural villages.

[3] According to WHO, one out of five children die from water-borne diseases in villages where there is no clean water supply.   WorldHope Corps recently procured its own well rig to continue its village well program begun in 2008.   WorldHope Corps has drilled 18 deep-water wells so far, and seeks sponsors for its 2012 village well program. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Drew University Honors Shalom Community Leader at Commencement 2012

Wilbert Mitchell, founding executive director of Respond Incorporated in North Camden, NJ, was awarded an honorary doctorate at Commencement in recognition of his 45 years of exemplary and visionary leadership in non profit management and community development.
It was my honor and privilege to present Mr. Mitchell, deliver the citation, and confer the degree in behalf of the Board of Trustees of Drew University on Saturday, May 12, 2012

Official Citation:
For the last 45 years, in the community where you live and work, you have helped local residents help themselves, by identifying local assets, mobilizing community resources, organizing for the common good, improving individual lives, as well as transforming your neighborhood of North Camden, NJ.
In your 4.5 decades of nonprofit management, as the first and only executive director of Respond Incorporated, you have stayed true to your original purpose of responding to the needs and developing the potential of underserved citizens in Camden.
Under your leadership, RESPOND INCORPATED provides an array of services to all ages, including: affordable day care centers for over 800 children, senior centers, programs for the homeless, rental assistance and home ownership, job creation for youth, vocational training for adults, health and education, and economic community development.
In 2009, you led Respond Inc. to new heights with the establishment of the New Worker Job Development and Vocational Training Center in North Camden.  This 24,000 square foot, $4.6 million facility offers expert instruction in culinary arts and automotive technology, and has prepared hundreds of local residents for the workforce.
Drew’s Communities of Shalom initiative, which offers community development training world-wide, is proud to be your partner in improving life in the shalom zone where you live and work.  Part of what makes this partnership successful is your leadership capacity to see the big picture of how to transform an entire community, and your matching gifts and abilities to make that vision into reality.
Where some see only trash heaps in vacant lots, you see tree-lined streets and community gardens.  Where some see only dilapidated buildings and boarded up businesses, you see state of the art playgrounds, new homes, sustainable industry and a vibrant waterfront where a prison once stood.  What distinguishes your leadership from others who respond to needs and do good is that you moved into the neighborhood, lived and worked there for a generation, long enough to see systemic change and transformation.  And in “seeking the shalom of the community”, you found your own shalom.
So, by authority of the Board of Trustees of Drew University, I confer upon you the degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Honorus causa.

Respond Incorporated was started in 1967 as an outreach ministry of Haddonfield United Methodist Church, when Dr. Stan Menking (Drew Trustee emeritus) was one of the pastors.  He challenged a local school teacher, Wilbert Mitchell, to take over a fledgling day care center in North Camden, and become its Executive Director.  He did, and stayed for the next 45 years, attracting resources and new development, and expanding the church outreach into a highly successful 10 million dollar nonprofit operation.  In 2009, with a desire to reconnect with their United Methodist roots, Respond INC. applied for Shalom Training and became a registered community of Shalom.  Drew assigned student interns for two summers to the shalom ministry in North Camden, under Mr. Mitchell’s tutelage, and today, their shalom program and summer shalom resource fair are integral to the entire community development operation.

In 2012, Respond INc. applied for certification in the Communities of Shalom network, making them eligible for recognition as a distinctive, exemplary site at the upcoming Shalom Summit in October. For more information on Respond Incorporated Community of Shalom, visit their website at   

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

President Obama on Gay Marriage and Golden Rule

For those who support marriage equality, today marks a moral milestone for monogamous, same-gender-loving all-but married couples.  POTUS base his view on the Golden Rule that Jesus taught:

Transcript: Good Morning America interview today on ABC News:

I have to tell you, as I said, I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally...

And, I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and other elements that we take for granted. And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.  

But I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage. At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married...

You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.

This is something that, you know, [Michele and I] we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated."

Discussion questions:  

1. If you were raising a family and in a committed, monogamous, same-gender relationship, as some on the President's staff are, how would you like to be treated by those who value marriage? 

2. How to relate Christian doctrine ("Christ sacrificing himself for us") with Christian practice ("treat others the way you want to be treated")?   When does doctrine trump practice, or practice trump doctrine when Scripture is ambiguous?

3.  What is the difference between basing one's views of marriage on biblical principles or biblical teaching?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On this very day...20 years ago

Today marks the 20th Anniversary Weekend of Communities of Shalom

This Very Day--Sunday, April 29—is the 20th Anniversary of Shalom!

Friends of Shalom are here in Tampa for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

This afternoon, from 5-6, in the Big Tent (across the street from the Convention Center) hosted by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, friends of shalom will gather to sing, testify, pray, and tell stories of shalom work in their communities.

Bishop Joseph Sprague (Instigator of Shalom in 1992 and still active in the Greater Hilltop Shalom Zone in Columbus, Ohio) will offer inspiration followed by anointing with oil for the difficult work ahead. 

On Sunday night during the 7pm celebration of ministry service in the Convention Center, Communities of Shalom will present its Report to GC and show the new video “Shalom is still on the loose!”
Watch it live at the General Conference Live .

THIS VERY DAY, 20 years ago, on April 29, 1992, the long-awaited trial of three policemen accused of beating motorist Rodney King was occurring in Los Angeles Country.  The brutal beating was caught on video tape, and shown repeated on national television stations leaving no doubt that three police officers used excessive force in subduing Rodney King while their supervisor looked on.  Yet, an all-white jury in a suburb outside of LA acquitted the officers. 

Public outcry was immediate.  Fires erupted in LA for three days after the verdict; there was looting and riots, chaos, civil unrest, and a social uprising in the racially divided city. Fourteen died, many arrested, millions of dollars of damage to property.  According to CNN, April 29, 1992 “ignited one of the worst race riots in US history” (CNN documentary, The Beating of Rodney King, April 29, 2012).

General Conference was in session in Louisville in April/May 1992.  The presiding Bishops, amazingly, set aside the Agenda of the Day to discuss how The United Methodist Church might respond to the civil unrest in LA, and threatening to spread across the country.  When Rev. James Lawson, civil rights leader and UM pastor in LA, spoke for the Cal-Pac Conference delegation, he gave an eyewitness report to what was happening in Los Angeles.  After a call for prayer and fasting, the next morning, Pastor Joseph Sprague (later Bishop Sprague), made a motion to create in downtown LA a “shalom zone” where health, healing, harmony and wholeness could emerge as neighbors worked together to seek the shalom of their community.

What started in one square mile in Los Angeles in 1992 has now developed into an international network of over 150 Shalom Zones worldwide; and a Shalom Zone Training® product that continues to equip new shalom teams to transform their communities.

Sunday, April 29, is the 20th Anniversary of Shalom to the day—this very day!

If you are in Tampa for General Conference of the UMC on Sunday, join us under the big Shalom Tent across from the Convention Center to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Communities of Shalom.

For more information on Communities of Shalom:

visit us at

Like us on Facebook:

Follow us on Shalom Twitter

Watch us on Shalom YouTube

Register for 20th Anniversary Shalom Summit:  Shalom Summit 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Origins of Shalom

On this 20th Anniversary Day for Communities of Shalom, I asked Bishop Joseph Sprague, Instigator of Communities of Shalom, to reflect on the origins of Shalom on April 29, 1992--the day of the social uprising in Los Angeles after the non-guility verdict for the officers who beat motorist Rodney King and the response of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to create the first "shalom zone" in south central LA. 

Origins of Communities of Shalom (1992)
By Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Shalom Initiative at General Conference, April 29, 2012

There was a certain irony about how I got to General Conference in 1992.  As a pastor from West Ohio, I had been elected as a delegate at two prior General Conferences. However, this time Good News and IRD targeted me to not get elected, apparently because of some of my social justice stands.  Consequently, I was the last clergy delegate elected and seated.  As luck or Providence would have it, I was seated on the aisle in front of the chair of the Presiding Bishop, perfectly positioned to make a motion from the floor.
While we were in session, the verdict was announced in the trial of the police officers involved in the Rodney King arrest in California. James (Jim) Lawson, a UMC pastor in Los Angeles, hosted and led the Los Angeles contingency as they gave a report to the General Conference about what was happening in their city in the wake of the verdict’s announcement.
The General Conference Rules were suspended and we all listened.  The Order of the Day was set aside for over an hour.  Rev. James Lawson, representing the Los Angeles delegation, was asked to speak about the civil unrest in LA. (Jim, I believe, is the second most influential person in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Having been trained in the Gandhian method of active resistance and non-violence, he trained most of the children and freedom riders in the movement.  I knew Jim over the years and we had done justice organizing together, and his brother, Phil, was a seminary classmate and part of our delegation to the Selma to Montgomery March decades earlier.)
.           That night, following the reports from James Lawson and Brandon Cho on the social uprising in LA, my fear was that the next day the delegates would adopt an empathetic, eloquent Resolution about the Rodney King incident and the plight of urban America, and we United Methodists would assume that by such action we had addressed the attendant issue and its systemic causes.
Sleep would not come. In the ensuing restlessness, I searched the Scriptures for a theologically sound addition to the far too narrow governmental program of Enterprise Zones in vogue at the time. The prophetic admonition in Scripture to “seek the Shalom of the city” leapt off the page from the Letter of Jeremiah. What about United Methodist--initiated Shalom Zones to be organized in myriad urban communities through which vast networks of religious bodies and called servant leaders, along with the private and public sectors, would work together to transform urban America one broken neighborhood at a time?
I drafted a proposal for creating a shalom zone in long-hand on paper and early the next morning passed it by as many people as I could. It required some early morning caucusing with the Los Angeles delegation and others who care about cities and urban ministries.  The Los Angeles delegation affirmed it enthusiastically and suggested that the first Shalom Zone be organized in South Central LA.
Before the first session of the day, the proposal had a lot of support.
I was positioned directly in front of the chair as the last clergy to be seated. I was ready with my card to be raised at an appropriate time. The Presiding Bishop saw it right away and recognized me. I read what I had written out during the night and brokered with others in the early morning. 
Many spoke in favor of the resolution and a few against it. The language of shalom was acceptable and supported. Specific actions were suggested. Many of the Good News delegates understood shalom as a faithful, tangible, biblical response to violence and injustice.
When the vote was taken, support for the motion and the concept behind it was overwhelming. The General Conference adopted the proposal nearly unanimously. It was one of the few times that the General Conference was able to make a bold decision with bipartisan support.
The work began almost immediately. And, the rest of the story is now both history and an indication of God’s preferred future of Shalom for all humankind.
Providentially, it has been my joy in Shalom’s 20th Anniversary Year initially to organize and then watch committed young adult leaders work with their older United Methodist and other colleagues to develop the dynamic Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone, aka, ‘The Zone’ in a forsaken neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. To see hundreds of at-risk youngsters served regularly, legal and health clinics emerge, non-violence and conflict mediation taught as lifestyles, and much more because private and public systems are working tirelessly with ‘The Zone’ is a gift to savor.
This gift of the Great Mystery and Shalom’s twenty year history combine to urge me to state unambiguously that we United Methodists have at our fingertips a viable model for faithful ministry with the poor for the transformation of lives, families, and the world God loves. This proven model is within reach for effective, faithful ministry with the poor, if this is a genuine priority and not a mere rhetorical Resolution.
May it be that we United Methodists will covenant with God and each other to seek the Shalom of the city in urban America and around the globe.                                                                                                     Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
April 29, 2012    
About Communities of Shalom:
Communities of Shalom is an international network of congregations and community partners that work together to transform their communities from the inside out. Trained Shalom teams engage congregations and communities to build a future of hope and peace together through multi-cultural, multi-faith, collaboration and asset-based community development.  
The Shalom Resource Center at Drew University provides on-going training, technical assistance, and relational support to 150 registered communities of shalom 
               For more information, visit


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seeking Shalom in Tampa this week

Our Shalom Team is in Tampa joining forces with other peace and justice ministries of the United Methodist Church in seeking the shalom of the city where we have been sent (Jeremiah 29:7). If you are in Tampa at General Conference, let me know. I plan to blog, tweet and link this week during the 20th Anniversary of Drew Shalom
Explore what is going on in other communities and United Methodist churches around the world and share your stories about your ministries and/or ministry with the poor.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why I attended OWS Spring Training

Call to Action:  99% Spring Training      

With the goal of training 100,000 people this Spring in community organizing and non-violent direct action, the 99% Spring coalition hopes to gather a critical mass of people power to “draw a line in the sand and say ‘No More!” to the corporations and wealthy power brokers who collectively have hijacked our democracy.

Given last year’s Supreme Court decision granting corporations and superpacs legal provisions to spend unlimited money to influence the political process, I personally agree that its time to demand a “separation of Corporation and State.”  (See my earlier posts on OWS   for why I have supported this original and primary goal of Occupy)

A broad-base coalition of national organizations (initiated by Occupy Wall Street and invited community activists to today’s training session in various cities across the country. Several friends and supporters of Communities of Shalom registered for trainings in Harlem, Morristown, Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities where Communities of Shalom is active.

I was quite impressed with the quality of the Spring Training in both its content and video-based delivery system utilizing a local facilitator supplied by    Link to Training Materials:

In my local group in Morristown, NJ, twenty people from the area gathered in the living room of a private home for the 3-hour training.  We first watched a short video of interviews with ordinary people saying why they identified with the so-called 99%.  Then, each of us were invited to write down and then share our story of why we are part of the 99%. 

Storytelling:  “We are the 99%”

Those who identify with the so-called 1% of the world's population (characterized as extremely rich individuals and corporations who exercise an unfair and controlling influence on the American economy, political system, and democracy) certainly have their story to tell.   And those who identify with the so-called 1% also have a story to tell of personal struggles and frustrations with the current economic hardships and inequities in America.  We are tempted to blame the wealthy for the plight of the poor, yet a couple of us in the room expressed gratitude for many of the 1% (e.g. Warren Buffet, George Soros and many others) for their support of the 99% movement.  

We all told our story in brief, and I cannot tell other people's stories, but here's the story I told about myself and why I came today to participate in the 99% Spring Training:  

“My name is Michael, I teach at Drew Theological School where I direct the Shalom Resource & Training Center for the 8-million-member United Methodist Church’s Communities of Shalom Initiative I’ve participated with OccupyFaithNYC since October 2011 in support of many of the goals of OWS.  Our coalition of faith-based organizations and churches facilitated the interfaith services on Sundays in Zuccotti Park, led the Occupy march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and tried to Occupy Christmas at Trinity Church Wall Street where several in our group were arrested for non-violent direct action.

I’m here today in to honor the legacy of the man who instigated the United Methodist Shalom Initiative--Rev. James Lawson, colleague of Martin Luther King, JR.  asked by King to train the Freedom Riders and others in civil right movement in Nonviolent Direct Action (long before he helped us start Communities of Shalom in April 1992 in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in LA—exactly 20 years ago).

Personally, I don’t really feel part of the 99%.  Based on the economic indicators of poverty and wealth.  I have a good job, adequate salary, no student loans to repay, and we own our home with equity.   I’m probably part of the 95% rather than the 99% in terms of net worth and income.  But as a Christian, I’m in direct solidarity with the frustrations and struggles of the 99%, and with them believe that “a better world is possible.”  I believe in the separation of Corporations and State, and believe its time to stand up to the principalities and powers that have a stranglehold on our economy and democratic process.“

What I did not feel led to say is why I am disappointed with Occupy in terms of its strategy for social transformation. I think that OWS was distracted by taking on too many social issues (bank foreclosures, global warming, reproductive rights, support for LBGT justice issues, support for Unions, etc) and incorporating too many advocacy organizations within their ranks.  The original call to occupy Wall Street last summer was to focus world attention on the disproportionate influence of Wall Street, Big Corporations and the interests of the Wealthy on Lawmakers in Washington DC.   After the early success of OWS, there now are too many ideological groups and social causes diluting the movement that still is without identifiable leaders and realistic, clear-cut proposals for incremental change (as the Civil Rights Movement was wise enough to do).

Nonetheless, I appreciated the group of citizens I was with and the training we received today from our gifted facilitator, Hatem.

I was delighted that United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader James Lawson was featured in the OWS training video on the history of non-violent direct action in America, and proud of is connection to Communities of Shalom.  (Rev. Lawson is the Honorary Co-Chair of the 20th Anniversary Shalom Summit in Los Angeles in October 2012)

Among the Direct Actions that members of the group came up with during the training was to occupy the Post Office in wealthy Mendham, NJ (and other cities in the country) on Monday, April 17 (Tax Day)—in order to attract media attention and raise awareness about the low tax rate many of the 1% enjoy due to legal loopholes for tax avoidance and passive income provisions in the Tax Code; and how mega corporations are paying record low taxes while social safety nets continue to get cut out of the national budget by lawmakers who follow the priorities of their benefactors.

Tax Code Reform (starting with implementing the ‘Buffet Rule’) is just one of many proposals by the 99% Spring Training campaign, but its important not to lose sight of the larger picture represented by the movement:  that the “world as it is” is not the “world as it should be” and that “a new world is possible” in which social and economic inequities are made right, human rights restored, community health valued, and spiritual values supported.  I still believe in Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community of Shalom, and Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom (Isa 65).  As a product of the idealism of the 1960’s and Jesus Movement of the 1970’s, and after decades of urban ministry and community development work in the world, I still believe that radical change and social-spiritual transformation is possible; and have committed my life to teaching others about the Kingdom of God--here and now and an in the world to come.  

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”