POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild — is determined to be plugged in to the $6 billion expansion project at Philadelphia International Airport.
And after the second of four meetings in June — with the third one scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 18 at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church, 1350 W. Vernon Road — it’s equally apparent that elected officials are coming on board in support of POWER’s push.
POWER’s concern is that qualified minority workers will be overlooked when the more than 100,000 temporary and permanent positions open up in construction and orbiting services. The multi-billion dollar project is estimated to inject millions into the local economy over the next several decades; the expansion project itself could take 15 years to complete.
Despite opposition from United Airways and a handful of residents in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, the expansion project is well underway, as the city has selected the firms that will manage the logistics of the project. So there’s no time better than now to ramp up support from the community and local elected officials, POWER organizers say.
Arch Street United Methodist’s Reverend Robin Hynicka, long at the forefront of POWER’s push, said minority and economically-challenged qualified workers haven’t benefited from the array of construction jobs that have popped up downtown, saying that while these companies were able to take advantage of tax breaks, the community didn’t benefit from the jobs these work sites created.
“We must change this,” said Hynicka during a recent rally and information session at Congregation Rodeph Shalom. “As people of faith — as a city — we can no longer subsidize projects that don’t put our neighbors back to work.”
Philadelphia City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones have supported POWER since the beginning; fellow Councilmen William Green and Mark Squilla also voiced their support for POWER’s agenda, saying they would commit publicly to working with the coalition.
POWER laid out its set of economic justice principles at its latest meeting, which include first-source hiring so that the city’s unemployed have a fair shot at landing a job; providing resources for creating an enhanced training and recruitment model; and an increase in minority participation in trade apprenticeship programs.
“The Philadelphia Airport is our biggest economic engine,” said POWER organizer and Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir/Heart of The City Rabbi Julie Greenberg. “Using that engine to address city poverty and unemployment only makes sense. Local hiring requirements at the airport can serve as a model for other large, subsidized projects in our city.”
POWER seems to be partly motivated by a similar campaign in Los Angeles. There, community organizers were able to broker the Community Benefits Agreement between the Los Angeles faith-based coalition and the city’s airport and municipal leadership. The community, City of Los Angeles and LAX agreement came in 2004, when all parties entered a legally binding agreement that addressed the $11 billion airport renovation plan there. The community coalition was granted several conditions due to the agreement, including $15 million for airport job training, establishing a firm to oversee local hiring, soundproofing area schools and residences and increasing opportunities for minority and women in the actual modernization of LAX.
“The win-win of public support for the Los Angeles Airport — in exchange for meaningful local hiring and training systems, and living wage provisions — is a model for Philadelphia,” said Reverend Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church.
Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church is calling on Christians to “Occupy Church” and become empowered to fight for social justice from a spiritual perspective. To that end, they’ve invited three high profile voices in the struggle to share their thoughts.
Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Dr. Obery Hendricks and Rev. Reginald T. Jackson are scheduled to speak at the church during the 11 a.m. service Sunday.
“The social witness Sunday is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time and I guess you could say that it’s our reaction to what we perceive to be an overemphasis on things such as prosperity and the church being a place just for God to bless you,” said the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel.
“There seems to be a decrease in the emphasis on things that used to be important in the life of the church which is to really be a voice in the community.”
Tyler said that it was a matter of Biblical principle for the church to be a voice that speaks on issues that are important to those that have the least.
“The New Testament reminds us that the church really ought to be about doing for the least of these, and in the city that we live in, very often the least of these have no one to speak for them. So, when school children throughout public schools in Philadelphia find themselves in overcrowded classrooms because of budget cuts in Harrisburg, they have no lobbyists to speak on their behalf,” Tyler said.
“The church can be that voice to advocate for things that are important and for those that are considered to be the least of these.”
Tyler described the scheduled speakers as having a heart for the people. The participants were more than ready to have their say.
“I think those that say the church should stay out of it aren’t Biblically sound and really do not understand what Christ was all about. Christ would be very much involved and engaged in issues such as it relates to the poor,” Jackson said, pastor and pioneer in the fight against racial profiling by police in New Jersey.
“He would very much be involved with issues as it relates to social justice. That’s clear from reading his word.”
Jackson cited reasons why the church has strayed away from its great commission.
“I think one, we have become so caught up with taking care of our priestly responsibilities that we have forgotten that the Lord has also called us to prophetic responsibilities,” he said.
“There was a time when the Black church was a voice to nobody that to speak for them and to fight for those who had nobody to fight for them. We have to reclaim that.”
Hendricks, a Biblical scholar, former seminary president, and author of the new book “The Universe Bends Toward Justice,” previewed what he would he be discussing; much of it will center around his book.
“It’s a book of very wide ranging passionate essays taking on conservative politics and the religious right and the distortions that they’ve conveyed about the church and about the religion of Jesus Christ,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks accused conservatives of not having enough of an interest for the poor.
“They’re not concerned about the have nots. For some reason, their policies are all skewed towards the haves, and that is a direct contradiction and violation of Jesus,” he said.
“Conservatives have always been about conserving wealth and power where it already is, and so what we’re seeing in these recent years is that they’ve just become more bold about it and less concerned about hiding their intentions and one thing that’s helped them do that is that they hide behind religion now.”
Tyler said that gatherings such as these helped to plant a seed within people, which would lead to a harvest of activity.
“In every generation, there is something that is at work that needs good people of faith to stand up and say that this is not what God would want. It’s about identifying within our own time those issues where the voice of the least of these can be heard,” he said.
“I just think that it’s absolutely wrong that we can find money in Pennsylvania to build two or three new prisons and yet we cannot find money to keep funding at a level it needs to be for public school education — and somebody needs to speak about that. Somebody not only needs to speak about it, but do something about it.”
For more information on Social Justice Sunday at Mother Bethel AME Church on Sunday, Nov. 13, starting at 11 a.m. go to http://www.MotherBethel.org or contact the church office at (215) 925-0616.
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the host church for the Philadelphia Annual Conference, a milestone accomplishment in that it’s the 196th Session. The conference theme, “Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower” (Luke 10:1) — the conference is scheduled to run from May 23–27, 2012, at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 419 South 6th Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
Men and women from across Pennsylvania, and as far as California and international locations, including Bermuda, have converged in Philly to celebrate the 196th Conference Session. “I’m just praying that the Lord will bless us real good,” shared Rev. Edward M. Bailey, Lancaster, Pa. A native New Yorker, he now shepherds a Bethel AME Church in Lancaster. “I’m an African Methodist, and there’s nothing like an AME conference … the singing, the preaching, the worship experience is outstanding,” shared Bailey. He’s also very hopeful that the conference goes well because it’s the last conference for Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, the presiding bishop and Episcopal leader.
“I’m been a member of Mother Bethel since 1995,” shared Rev. Lisa R. Cross, an ordained elder at Mother Bethel AME. Cross continued in expressing her job about the conference, “This is a great conference, and my expectation is that the new vision that is being planted throughout all the churches will be instilled in the leadership (represented) here. It’s wonderful to be here at the Mother church because our heritage means more to me now than ever before; if we don’t tell the story, who’s going to tell it?” Cross is responsible for Congregational Care services.
Delores Lyons is the operations manager for Mother Bethel AME Church, and the general chair for the Philadelphia Annual Conference. According to Lyons, she hopes that the visiting conference attendees will experience, “Joy, joy, joy!” She’s been a member of Mother Bethel for over 25 years, and her expectation for the conference is for “everyone (to walk) away satisfied, satisfied, having been filled with the Spirit and renewed to go forward to evangelize for Christ.”
Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, shared this about the 196th conference, “Well, this is a bit overwhelming, obviously, but it is a great honor to be standing in the historic steps of Richard and Sarah Allen (the church founders). To think, 196 years ago, the AME Church began holding annual conferences; the first was in Baltimore; a year later, it was in Philadelphia. So, we’re the second oldest annual conference in the entire world — and now, there are annual conferences held on five continents.”
For more information about the conference, or Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, call 215-925-0616.
The “196th Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference: Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower,” hosted by Mother Bethel AME Church, will be held next week, May 23 to May 27. The historic Mother Bethel AME church, located at 419 Richard Allen Ave. has an expected attendance of more than 5,000 people.
The meeting will be held by Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, presiding bishop over the First Episcopal District of the AME Church. All events are to be held at Mother Bethel excluding the Young People’s Division to be held at AME Union 1614 West Jefferson St. and the closing ceremonies, to be held at First Episcopal District Headquarters 3801 Market St.
The annual conference meets at different churches every year and Mother Bethel Church, is enthused to host the conference this year. According to Leslie M. Tyler, public relations director at Mother Bethel, the church last hosted the conference in 2008.
“The Annual Conference is always an exciting time for the AME Church,” said Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, Mother’s Bethel’s 52nd pastor and conference host. “This is the most important annual meeting for local congregations to report on work that’s been done but also share visions of things to come — it’s a time to rekindle old friendships, make new friends and become inspired by powerful worship experiences.”
All evening workshop services start around 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. For more information and a list to a full schedule, contact Mother Bethel at (215) 925-0616 or visit www.motherbethel.org.
In honor of the “196th Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference: Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower,” various African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered for the common cause to connect and inspire through empowering worship experiences.
With a lot of preparation and support from surrounding AME churches, the historic Mother Bethel AME Church in South Philadelphia hosted the conference this year.
“We partnered with people in the community and we worked with other churches,” said first lady of Mother Bethel Leslie Tyler. “We really worked our AME network; that’s where AME comes in handy because you never really do things by yourself — we just thank God we are not by ourselves.”
Mother Bethel worked with other churches to provide adequate parking space for guests and to supply the use of vans. In addition, they partnered with Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café, to provide catering and to have guests eat at the restaurant.
The conference kicked off with a “Women in Ministry” event last Sunday, followed by the “Evangelism” event on Monday and a “missionaries” event on Tuesday where people gathered from New York, D.C. and other surrounding cities.
“We elected a new president, Connie Smith; … Florence Smith was the outstanding president,” Tyler said.
Wednesday was the official opening ceremony at Mother Bethel and Rev. Ronald Sparks from Monumental AME Church delivered the annual sermon.
“The turnout has exceeded expectations and the opening service was spirit filled,” Tyler said. “It was a very inspirational message that captured the frustrations and hopes of his peers and all of those gathered — it kind of sets the tone for the annual conference.”
The Rev. Edward M. Bailey from Lancaster and the Rev. Paul J. Thomas of Union AME Church located at 1614 Jefferson St., were enthused to participate in the annual conference and to attend the lay organization event held Thursday night at Mother Bethel.
The AME Church lay organization is a group consisting of members and community leaders, who inspire the youth, encourage financial support of the Church’s programs and share a common appreciation for the history and principles of African Methodism.
“It is also the night that we raise money for our colleges that belong to the AME Church,” Bailey said. “Each church will come together and give a donation towards a college fund for the African Methodist church.”
Thomas believes this conference is much needed in our community.
These conferences are important because it helps members know what the churches are doing and where they stand,” he said.
Following the lay organization event, Friday’s events were dedicated to Christian education along with Saturday, which was dedicated to the Young People’s Division (YPD). Former Gov. Ed Rendell stopped by the conference on Friday.
Sunday’s closing ceremonies located at First Episcopal District headquarters at
3801 Market St. consisted of the reading of resolutions, closing worships and the appointment of churches.
“Each year pastors are assigned to their church,” Tyler said. “Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appoints the pastor to a church.”
The conference is also an opportunity for vendors from all over to sell merchandise in what Mother Bethel names the “Blacksmith shop.”
The conference was an opportunity for people to reconnect, network and worship together.
“When you are working out there so often you think you’re all by yourself, it’s good to come and be reaffirmed that what you’re doing is what God called us to do,” Bailey said.