So how are we doing after 30 years? I was brought to reflect on this after the recent report of the Episcopal Economic Justice Loan Fund.
After a decade of intensive conversation about the role of the church in the community, the 1988 General Convention adopted resolutions to encourage the Church on all levels to engage in the work of Economic Justice. Known as the Michigan Plan, we were encouraged to adopt our own plans to address systems of economic injustice. I was a member of the Diocese of Newark at the time, and we created several initiatives to respond to the Michigan Plan.
The Episcopal Loan Fund for Economic Justice developed out of this call to action. Following the work of a task force, the fund was incorporated at 2000 General Convention after being formed by the Executive Council in 1998. At the same time members of the task force along with other active lay and clergy leaders established the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice to continue the work of educating, training and resourcing Dioceses, parishes and other organizations in ways of investing in their communities.
From 2000 through 2009 ENEJ attempted at each General Convention to increase the original $7 million corpus of the Loan Fund. Unfortunately the Church was in such financial straights that it could not invest more in the fund because it could not afford to lose the interest gained from its portfolio, as I recall. Is it time to reconsider and find ways to enlarge the Loan Fund to build on the significant work it can support?
The recent report from the Loan Fund shares their current investments. It demonstrates what can be done when the rate of return is not the primary concern. We hear about the fiduciary responsibility of gaining an acceptable rate of return that often inhibits us from using our financial resources for the betterment of the “common good.” But the loan fund is able to invest without the need to have a “market” rate of return. It is a way for the church to engage in the radical work of systemic change. These funds address systems of poverty and oppression that exist in almost every community in our nation without a need to profit, or a rate of return to balance an operating budget. These funds create unique partnerships that bring about wholeness and well-being for the marginalized and down-trodden.
ENEJ has produced a 40 page booklet entitled, “Taking Action for Economic Justice.” Ten copies were originally sent to each Diocese in 1996 to support neighborhood-community based economic development. Three specific areas were identified: credit unions, housing cooperatives and worker-owned businesses.
Thanks to the persistence of people like Gloria Brown, Hugh White, John Hooper and Art Lloyd the call for the church to engage in the work of neighborhood-community economic justice continues. So after thirty years how much progress have we made? If you have stories to share, we would love to hear them!
Rev. Geoff Curtiss, President
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice