Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World

Advocacy Day is a chance for United Methodist members to lobby state lawmakers

Florida Advocacy Day is a United Methodist and African Methodist Episcopal mission focused on many aspects of social justice. For two decades, members from Florida churches have been encouraged to work for that goal at the legislative level.

On January 27, participants gathered again in Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers and advocate for these vital goals. It was especially exciting to welcome more than 20 students working in Young Adult Missioner Movement (YAMM) placements throughout Florida.

Keeping contact with lawmakers is a key aim of Advocacy Day.

“Participants are in YAMM to change the world,” Director of Young Adult Missional Movement Heidi Aspinwall said. “We can and should affect government to help all citizens.”

Each year, the Florida Conference works jointly with AME churches and Florida Impact to End Hunger to organize the event. The Conference is especially dedicated to help young people realize how their efforts can help lift people out of poverty. The connections made with lawmakers is key to that effort.

This year, Advocacy Day participants focused on five proposed bills in the House and Senate that, if passed, would increase the number of school-based healthcare services and healthy meals.

According to Anne Serlick, Senior Policy Analyst from Florida Policy Institute, “If HB 81 and SB 190 were to pass, $50 million more federal dollars would be available to school districts statewide, which would mean more dollars for school-based health services that we are missing out on now.”

Other proposed bills would also provide breakfast and on-the-go meal programs for hungry school children. Other proposals would eliminate the prohibitions on parks and recreation programs feeding hungry children in after-school programs.

Throughout 2020, members from the Advocacy team will work to augment the groundwork that was accomplished in Tallahassee. The hope is that many more members from UMC and AME congregations across Florida will be inspired to participate.

“During Advocacy Days, we may have had 80 people attend,” said Laurie Hofts, Assistant to the Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries. “We would like to see several times that number of members be involved in advocacy work at their local level.”

Hofts stressed the importance of thorough training in the ministry of advocacy and lobbying.

“Understanding the issues and the process is imperative. Once these pieces are in place, members would begin to build a network with others,” she said. “You can’t go until you know.”

Lucy Pride, 11th District AME Liaison to Florida Impact, was optimistic about the vision for growing this ministry.

“We will be a lot more visible. This should be more helpful. And we will be even more prepared for the next year when the legislature is in session,” she said.

Heidi Aspinwall understands the need to prepare young people and future advocates to make a difference.

Advocates head to the state capitol to lobby for those most in need.

“The [government] process we have now is complicated and confusing,” Aspinwall said. “It’s important to break it down, so we understand, and we can do something about it.

“We need to change the government and systems we have now, but also work locally through our church communities to care for the people in critical and dynamic ways.”

The United Methodist Church, founded on biblical principles that all of God’s children should have access to sufficient resources to thrive, works worldwide to alleviate poverty. The General Board of Church and Society, a component of the United Methodist Church Conference, is dedicated to advocating for this principle.

“Justice ministries like Florida Advocacy Days are so important because these efforts get to the root cause of social inequities. But this work takes time and effort,” retired pastor and past district superintendent Rev. Bob Gibbs said.

“Most churches focus on mercy ministries, like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. This work is good and necessary. But these efforts have to be repeated and kept up. Justice ministries, on the other hand, eventually lead people out of poverty and help them to sustain themselves for the long term.”

UMC and AME advocates and Florida Impact representatives reported many reports of positive experiences and a general feeling that they had been heard.

Theresa Frost, veteran Advocacy Day participant and YAMMER, said, “So, it was a great meeting of open dialogue and where the church stands on these bills. In all, I would say that Advocacy Day went really well.”

--Sarah Hundley is a freelance writer in Tallahassee

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