On Saturday, September 16, 2017, the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey (LEAMNJ) hosted the first annual Justice Gathering. Almost 150 people of faith from all over the state of New Jersey gathered together to listen, learn, collaborate, and worship. The event took place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center in Port Murray, New Jersey.
The Justice Gathering began with fellowship time followed by a large-group gathering session. There, the Rev. Dr. Traci C. West, currently Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School, gave the keynote address. “We do this work because we live and embody the heart of the Gospel,” Dr. West reminded those gathered. “It's not about making friends; it's about loving enemies." A handful of leaders attending the Justice Gathering had been students of Dr. West’s at Drew, and some of them named her message as a highlight of the day. Energized by the morning’s keynote, the participants split into six groups focusing on different issue areas. Led by members of the LEAMNJ Policy Board, these breakout sessions focused on immigration, criminal justice, hunger, economic justice, environmental justice, and violence prevention.
The Rev. Sara Lilja, Director of LEAMNJ, continued to stress the importance of faith-based advocacy in her “Advocacy 101” session in the afternoon. “We have changed the opinions of legislators with our presence,” Rev. Lilja explained, encouraging the group to continue to make their voices heard – in person, by phone, or mail.
An advocacy offering of postcards urging New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker to stand with Dreamers was taken during the closing worship service. LEAMNJ Board Member Serena Rice reminded the Justice Gathering that such acts of service are a part of our worship and calling as Christians.
Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark declared those gathered to be “love-bearers and power-bearers” in his sermon, encouraging activist leaders not only to organize and advocate, but to use their power of prayer.
And with the congregation singing an enthusiastic rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” the Justice Gathering concluded, with participants excited to share what they learned back in their home communities.
The Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey (LEAMNJ) is an ecumenical partnership between the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Episcopal Dioceses of Newark and New Jersey. Rooted in God’s covenant, LEAMNJ addresses the systemic causes of injustice and poverty in New Jersey through civic engagement, shaping public opinion, and advocating for public policies that will alleviate the suffering of all children of God and the care of God’s creation. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.