June 26, 1996
Episcopal News Service
James Solheim, Director
EPISCOPALIANS JOIN OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS AT STAND FOR CHILDREN MARCH
BY MARIE PANTON
(ENS) Episcopalians joined thousands of children, parents and grandparents who marched in Washington D.C. June 1 for the rights of America's young.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, was a prime mover of the event, which brought an estimated 200,000 supporters to the Lincoln Memorial for the non-partisan Stand for Children rally sponsored by 3,500 organizations, many of them religious.
With a dry heat and a clear blue sky suggesting the on-rushing summer, supporters sported T-shirts denoting their religious denominations or local organizations. A sea of color, they waved flags, raised banners, and signed petitions as they flooded acres of the park between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Participants from as far away as California and as near as Maryland said that they came to reaffirm their commitment to children and to support the vision of a safety net for America's future leaders.
`LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND'
"We stand today at the Lincoln Memorial as American families and as an American community to commit ourselves to putting our children first," Edelman told the throng. "We commit ourselves to building a just America that leaves no child behind, and we commit ourselves to insuring all our children have a healthy and a safe passage to adulthood."
As Edelman spoke, 50 religious leaders, each with a child from his or her congregation, sat behind her, symbolizing a mosaic of faiths and races, and their commitment to children. "When you here the stats over and over--one can't help believe something is drastically wrong," said Jeannette Brown of Connecticut, commenting on Edelman's litany of statistics about the suffering of children. Brown, who is bishop's deputy for mission for her diocese, represented the Children's Advocacy Network of Province I.
Other countries are amazed when they hear about the lack of health care for children in the United States, and the violence and poverty that they face, she said. "Europe sees us as sliding out of the first world into the third world." While many marchers represented particular groups, the devotion to children transcended any alliance.
"As adults we have to represent the children," said Angie Martinez from All Saints, Pasadena, parent of two teenage daughters, who marched with her husband, Eugene. "We are here more as parents than as members of any particular group."
So was Inez Haynie Dodson, a member of the Standing Committee for the Diocese of Maryland and St. Bartholomew's Church in Baltimore. "I am here as a mother of four children, a grandmother, a mother-in-law and an advocate for the family," said Dodson. "Children are the most important resource that we have and we have to take a stand on what's happening to them."
WORSHIP INTEGRAL TO EVENT
The rally's religious overtones were evident from the interfaith service that kicked off Saturday's rally at the Lincoln Memorial with participants from the Christian, Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths.
On Friday, the eve of the march, an ecumenical service at the Washington National Cathedral was jointly sponsored by the Children's Ministries Office and the cathedral. Episcopalians also gathered at the Church of the Epiphany for a Eucharist service with nearly 1,000 worshipers before stepping off in the march Saturday morning.
"I feel special, especially with the prayers that the lady gave for us," said Dondi Petty, 14, from Pasadena, California, referring to a minister in the interfaith service.
The worship services were held as "positive steps leading into the procession," according to Bishop Arthur E. Walmsley, retired bishop of Connecticut, who has long been associated with the Children's Defense Fund.
In a stirring sermon at the Eucharist Saturday morning, Bishop Charlie F. McNutt Jr., chief operating officer at the Episcopal Church Center, represented the presiding bishop. "No more!" he said. "This madness must end. Children are a heritage from God to be protected, cared for, blessed and nurtured. The fruit of the womb is the precious gift of God."
After the service, Walmsley added, "The situation of all children in this country is precarious. We are creating a nation that throws away children and that's a deeply religious issue that must be dealt with."
Diane Porter, the Episcopal Church's senior executive for program, McNutt, Walmsley and Howard Williams, national coordinator of children's ministries, marched with the Episcopal delegation. The children of St. James Episcopal Church, Baltimore, led the delegation in the march carrying a green-and-white banner featuring the Episcopal shield and the Stand For Children logo, a child in the arms of an adult.
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, brought a 220-strong contingent to the rally, including 150 parishioners, plus city and school representatives, and children from the church's tutoring program, "Night Basketball and Books," who earned money throughout the year to attend. The church contingent displayed a banner more than 300 feet long with hand prints of the children who were not able to be there.
A DAY CROWNED AS SUCCESS
On the way to the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Robin Szoke, Christian education director in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who attended with her 19-year-old daughter, Christina, called the rally a success.
"There is a sense of community spirit and the church living out its vision to honor and respect every human being and to support each child in their life with Christ," said Szoke. "There is a new energy moving here with everyone unified in their care for children."
"I enjoyed it," said Franklin Onuoha, 14, from Boston. "I enjoyed especially Dr. Edelman. She had a positive message for everyone."
"This is fun," said Jenny Longerbeam, 8, from Charles Town, Virginia, as she marched in the crowd. "We have been walking a lot and seeing a lot of people and I have met two friends."
As the day progressed and parents pushed children in strollers, carried them or held their children's hands through the crowd, Nancy Longerbeam, Jenny's mother, felt her presence was a good sign to "the people who have the clout."
"They need to wake up to what's happening with children," said Longerbeam. "The negativity and bitterness I've experienced with some children are astounding. We should not ignore what's going on with them.
RALLY DRAWS CRITICISM
The event was not without criticism. Even before it began, conservative groups called it a misguided effort to rally support for failed big-government programs. Kenneth Weinstein, director of the Government Reform Project for the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the rally "should actually be called `the march of the social services administrators'" because many of the marchers deliver social services--some government-funded--to the young.
In her speech, however, Edelman dismissed the critics. "We do not stand here advocating big government," she said. "We stand here advocating just government, a government that does not give more to those who have and less to those who have not."
"There have been some nasty articles which concentrated on the negatives and even said the Children's Defense Fund is outdated," observed Clara Tammany of Maine, Province I representative for the Religious Educators Network. "What horrible comments. She's (Edelman) pushing the right buttons or nobody would get mad."
Szoke, noted that although people have a right to criticize, "this event is a stand with each child in their own spiritual development and there are no issues here except for God's vision and how we live that out with a passion in the context of the love of God."
While politicians were urged to attend, none was invited to speak to prevent the rally from becoming a partisan platform.
PLANS TO ADDRESS CHILDREN'S NEEDS
Porter said the Episcopal Church must seriously consider what it will do for children.
"We have to start making children real parts of our community and build on the momentum, and not let them just be `little,'" she said. "We have to get the message to our city halls and state capitols that children are important in our lives."
According to Williams, 12 Episcopal dioceses created a Children's Charter in 1994 as the heart of what the church seeks to do with and for children.
"Stand for Children was clearly the advocacy effort from the charter," he said. "Even though advocacy is crucial, the church cannot do only advocacy, but has to do the other things, like the nurture of children, and accept the ministries of children in order to have a balance."
Williams' office will invite each diocese to hold a Stand for Children rally before the 1997 General Convention. The hope, said Williams, is for the church to take leadership and invite other denominations and concerned groups to make visible the concerns of children and then to address these issues.
"Our Lord did not call a world conference," said Williams. "Everything he did was in a local context with the people in the villages and towns, so they have to do the same thing locally."
--MARIE PANTON IS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT FOR EPISCOPAL LIFE, THE NATIONAL NEWSPAPER OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH. ALSO CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ARTICLE WERE RELIGION NEWS SERVICE AND SARAH MOORE, DIRECTOR OF CHURCH COMMUNICATIONS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH.
©Copyright 1996, Episcopal News Service