Rural development, anti-hunger policy and job creation are important topics in many parts of the country these days, but they are especially important in Ohio, where in June 2012 ELCA congregations met to discuss how best to meet the needs of their congregations and communities.
Callon Holloway, bishop of the ELCA Southern Ohio Synod, says Ohio is unique in its blend of urban and rural issues.
Though many people are familiar with Ohio’s industrial areas, Holloway notes Ohio also had “a lot of people who came with the German influx through the mid-1800s. They settled in all sorts of places as farmers and helped to build Ohio, but in recent years these farms have been closing.”
Now, like many areas in the United States, Ohio is looking for new opportunities to grow and develop.
Luckily, ELCA congregations there have an important asset when it comes to these particular issues. Sherrod Brown, a U.S. senator and a member of the Senate Agricultural Committee, is a life-long Lutheran and a member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Lorain, Ohio.
“He’s been faithful there,” says Holloway, who has known Brown’s family for a number of years.
It only made sense, then, that the senator and representatives from ELCA congregations in Ohio should come together to work on the issues that were of mutual concern. So in June 2012, that’s exactly what they did.
Ohio pastors, social service providers and community leaders were invited to meet with representatives from Brown’s office as well as members of the ELCA Advocacy office, an ELCA ministry that works for change in public policy based on the experiences of Lutheran ministries, programs and projects around the country and the world.
“We wanted to talk about issues related to Ohio. Especially some of the national policies regarding rural life and economic development,” says Holloway. “As we were contemplating how to have more positive impact in the state, we figured the best way is to talk to some of our elected officials.”
The forum, held at Camp Mowana, an ELCA outdoor ministry, allowed those in attendance to network with people from across their state who were working toward similar goals.
“It got people to know each other and to be able to share their mutual concerns,” Holloway says. “Concerns not only about the pastoral care of people in our territory but also about the structures that provide support for growth in the economy.”
They also got to ask questions of the senator’s staff and of the ELCA advocacy representatives. Though Brown could not be there himself, his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Connie Schultz, addressed those gathered.
“With his wife present, that gave a sign of his commitment to the concern,” Holloway says. In addition, Brown’s staff “was very present in person and by conference call to answer questions and to offer advice on community organizing.”
In particular, both Brown’s staff and ELCA Advocacy representatives helped “the group to see the need for communicating, to know that throughout the state there are people with the same concerns, to talk to each other, to have a strategic impact on policy and how federal policy can be impacted by local people.”
What was Holloway ‘s overall impression of the event? “I hope we can do it again,” he says.