2. A Deeper Dive
This section, “A Deeper Dive,” reflects some of our key social justice concerns that trouble us in Vermont and inspire us to action. While Bishop Ely has often been seen as the public face for these issues, many Episcopalians are engaged in quiet, and sometimes not-so-quiet, ways to be present to our sisters and brothers in need whether they go to “church” or not. Being present in the trenches with those who are God’s beloved, be they poor, abandoned, abused, neglected or addicted, defines the ways in which many Episcopalians move with the heart and hands of compassion. Where there is need, showing up with hope and love is critical.
Our growing understanding of the Jesus Movement in Vermont is exactly that: showing up and engaging in the world outside our church doors; looking for and joining with those places where God is already at work in our neighborhoods; living out what we say we believe in our baptismal promises; remembering the adage, “Be careful how you live your life. You might be the only Bible some people ever read.”
Below are some of the issues where our next bishop will find the Episcopal Church at work:
Poverty. Although our largely rural state boasts awe-inspiring physical beauty in its mountains, rivers, lakes and woods, it also provides many places to hide those living in poverty. A deeper look shows we have those living with homelessness, food insecurity, underemployment, domestic abuse, gun violence, and the challenges of affordable housing, reliable transportation, affordable childcare and affordable credit. More than half of the children in Vermont live in poverty, and 40% of the work force earns less than a living wage. Hunger Free Vermont reports that one in 10 Vermont residents (including one in seven children) are food insecure. Because of the state’s expanded Medicaid program, few are living in poverty without medical care. Children through age 18 are provided medical and dental services.
The people of The Episcopal Church in Vermont have many ministries serving those living in poverty. We are less proficient at welcoming these people into our pews. Many are unaware of this issue, but some see it as a failure to welcome all to the table, as Jesus calls us to do.
Opioid Crisis. Vermont has not been spared the problems of opioid abuse, which reach across all classes, education levels and ages. There are drug treatment facilities in 11 of our 14 counties. Few people have remained unaffected by the problem, either in their own families or in families known to them. In 2016 there were 101 overdose deaths in Vermont, and the rate climbs with ever more potent synthetic drugs making their way north. We are on the pipeline from urban centers south of us heading north to Montreal.
In the top four images, members of the Episcopal Church in Vermont join in a Poor People's Campaign rally on the steps of the Vermont statehouse in early May. The Rev. Beth Ann Maier, regional deacon, and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector, Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre, VT, in the bottom two photos, speak to the crowd.
All parts of the social services system are affected:
More children are entering state custody because of parental drug use.
Law enforcement is dealing with crimes related to seeking drugs and supporting drug use.
Children living with the effects of drug use are challenging to the schools.
The Department of Corrections is dealing with increasing numbers of offenders.
Effects of the opioid epidemic are seen by some churches in increased food shelf use, in anxiety in the neighborhoods where they are located, and in members who are affected by addiction.
Racial Reconciliation. In this state, and in The Episcopal Church in Vermont, such a huge majority of us are white (94.5%) that it is too easy for most of us to live our lives without confronting the destructive issues of white privilege and the need for racial reconciliation. For people of color, the need is no less present than anywhere else and perhaps more urgently felt, as their numbers are small. The burdens of pushing progress forward can be heavy, requiring our utmost commitment and persistence.
To address this, there is a diocesan racial reconciliation and healing network, which is developing a Four-phase Racial Healing Process, recommending anti-racism training resources and consulting with local congregations on training events. The work of this network is described on the diocesan website:
We have much to do, and seek to continue to learn and carry out this work.
Creation Care. Stewardship of the environment has been at the core of The Episcopal Church in Vermont since our first Bishop, John Henry Hopkins, came to Burlington and, in 1855, purchased a large tract of land on which to live and farm and teach. That lakefront land, Rock Point, has been stewarded by The Episcopal Church in Vermont for the past 163 years. Just this year, under the strong and visionary leadership of Bishop Ely, and with the help of community will and resources, permanent conservation has been established. Rock Point is a model of steps that can be taken, including the creation of a pollinator garden and the development of a solar orchard that supplies all the electricity used on the property. Creation Care education takes place through Rock Point School, Rock Point Camp and through use of Rock Point as a teaching site for the community.
Those familiar with the magnificent property at Mission Farm in Killington value it as well and look forward to exploring use and conservation opportunities there.
Creation Care is a priority in our parishes in practical everyday practices. Some parishes control their use of energy in winter by moving to more heat-efficient locations. Many are focused on recycling efforts during Sunday and weekday gatherings. Avoiding bottled water and using refillable water bottles is encouraged. We have a farmer priest in our midst who, along with her husband, began a successful composting business, Grow Vermont, which gathers food scraps from restaurants and farms, turning it into fertile soil nutrients.
Surrounded by the beauty of Vermont, we understand the need to work locally, nationally and globally to sustain God’s environmental gifts. Solar farms can be seen throughout the state. There is vigorous discussion about other sustainable energy sources, especially wind power. Whether we are using the earth for our livelihood as farmers, or welcoming others as tourists; whether born in Vermont or making the decision to move and live here, Creation Care is at our core.
Immigrant workers. Our hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing industries rely upon immigrant workers. In the current political environment, many in the immigrant work force are subject to removal and deportation at nearly any time. In addition to this uncertainty, many dairy farmers, whose survival often depends on immigrant workers, are struggling financially due to low milk prices. Immigration rights and justice for these valuable workers is an important concern addressed by the Franklin Area Rural Ministries.
Gun Violence and Domestic Abuse. These twin issues have gone hand in hand in recent years too frequently. Both gun violence and domestic abuse are serious issues that cut across socio-economic and political spectrums and impact the lives of all Vermonters. There are individuals from the Episcopal Church who are involving themselves as leaders in raising more public awareness about these issues and what we can do to address them. Bishop Ely is a member of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Network of 80 bishops in The Episcopal Church.
Elders. The population of elders in Vermont is expected to increase significantly into the future. Impacts on safe housing, aging in place, poverty, health care, and transportation are issues not only for churches and our aging congregations but also for Vermont in general. While this issue might not seem as urgent as the others named above, it is a “sleeper issue” that is quietly simmering and to which we need to pay better attention.
Supporters of the organization Migrant Justice, which includes members of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, bear witness as Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim signs the "Milk with Dignity" contract in October 2017, improving human rights for immigrant workers in the dairy industry, after more than two years of negotiations.
Jesus calls us to love one another as he has loved us—that we are to pay attention to those who are less fortunate, in need, or in trouble and know that this is not limited to the people who know how to use the prayer book. Guided by our Baptismal Covenant, we bring both our faith in our call to seek and serve Christ in all people and the surety that we are signs of the presence of God in all places. We are both sometimes anxious and trusting that God makes able those who are called, and so we go – to the state house, to addiction centers and food shelves and work for justice and peace, respecting the dignity given to each Child of God.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”