Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Lutheran, Roman Catholic bishops team up to address poverty

Church leaders want to see poverty in St. Paul endedy by AD 2020

Only rarely will one hear of a religious organization setting a goal for itself to see poverty eliminated in its territory on a strict timetable.

The ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod has taken the gutsy step of doing just that. On the way to accomplishing that goal in Minnesota’s capital city, where the synod is centered, Lutheran Bishop Peter Rogness has joined with the Rev. Harry Flynn, leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Last year the two religious leaders led a press tour of some blighted areas in St. Paul. On March 17 they co-hosted a “Strategies for Ending Poverty by 2020” conference at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church.

“Poverty is an affront to our God,” Flynn told nearly 350 ecumenical participants, including a host of Luther-ans. He said, “Poverty is a social sin,” adding he believes ending it in St. Paul by AD 2020 is possible. “But, it will require a community.”

Said Rogness, “Poverty’s complex issues are inter-related — and solvable. At this moment, we possess the financial resources, creativity and ability. Minnesota is closer than most states to eliminating poverty.”

Said Rogness, “We have a moral mandate to end poverty, because we are a moral people.”

Activist and educator Julia Dinsmore told the group, “I come out of Minnesota’s ‘poverty industry.’ My kids are third-generation welfare class.” An Irish Roman Catholic, she told about meeting a middle-class Norwegian Lu-theran woman who lived on her street in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood. “To-gether she and I built a bridge,” she said.

Steve Cramer, executive director for Project for Pride in Living, a housing agency, said “Minnesota is doing better than the federal government because our state provides three funding streams — funds to build, funds to renovate and funds to maintain.”

The Rev. Albert Gallmon, Jr., executive director of the Urban Leadership Academy, said, “To end poverty for children, we need to begin to educate them.” He added, “Some states can’t talk about ending poverty because they’re too large. Minnesota is of a size where this is actually possible.”

Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger suggested that “the biggest driver of poverty in America today is poor health and the high cost of health care.” He said too much health care money is going to the wrong places — to hospitals, doctors and insurance companies.

The final speaker was Dr. Patricia Harvey, who served as superintendent of the St. Paul Public Schools from 1999-2005. She said, “The door to opportunity begins to close [for young people] at the end of grade six.” Reflecting on the growing global nature of modern life, she added, “None of our kids will survive academically without at least two languages.” She maintained that the greatest cause of educational gaps between students is social class.