For the second year, we have asked bishops in each synod to help us lift up some of the ministry of advocacy happening across the Commonwealth. Here are some of the wonderful advocates and their stories from 2017.

Allegheny Synod — Susan Barclay

Luke 16: 19-22 tells the story of a poor man named Lazarus who was passed by each day, unnoticed, by the rich man.  This story led to the naming of the food bank in Rockwood, Pa:  Lazarus Gate.  We feed those in the community who wrestle with food insecurity, unnoticed by the community.  Susan was instrumental in the start of this ministry after retiring as a teacher in the Rockwood Area School District.  She saw children who were hungry.  As a teacher, she served on a committee, “Kids Come First”, that provided for the needs of students that included buying lunches and providing holiday meals for students’ families throughout the year.  After retiring from teaching at the district, she continued to be a voice for the hungry in Rockwood and Somerset County.  After attending a Somerset County Summer Feeding Program meeting and discovering that Rockwood did not qualify for this program, she joined a group of individuals attempting to launch a mobile food bank in Somerset County.  In 2012 the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank hit the road, delivering food (primarily fresh produce) to people in ten communities throughout Somerset County.  Roughly 1100 families are served every month from this truck in rain, snow, heat, or cold.  Susan served on the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank Board and continues to volunteer for this ministry.  After receiving an ELCA Hunger Grant, Susan was instrumental in opening Lazarus Gate in Rockwood.  An average of  fifty families are served twice a month.  She serves as president of the Lazarus Gate Board, runs the pantry by stocking shelves, picking up donated meat, accepting food donations from food drives, planning distributions, and overseeing about 45 volunteers. She was an advocate for the Rockwood School District’s backpack program, the Rocket Fuel Backpack Food Program, providing advice and encouragement in it’s development.  Susan led the eight food pantries in Somerset County in an endeavor to be a recipient of funds from the Somerset Daily American Challenge, monies that were used to buy food for those we serve.   She is constantly looking for venues to be the voice for the hungry in Somerset County.

Lower Susquehanna Synod — The Rev. Shawn Berkebile

8Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
9Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31: 8-9

These words speak to our actions and why we advocate. Pastor Shawn has been working on drug policy reform and specifically Medical Marijuana Reform in Pennsylvania for the past two years. For him, it all started with a girl in his congregation whose voice needed to be heard and she didn’t have the ability to speak. Shawn and her family (pictured) took their voices of privilege into Harrisburg and along with other caregivers and patients we were able to educate legislators in the Commonwealth and see Act 16 signed into law. Campaign for Compassion was created by caregivers as a resource with the goal to educate the general public as to the positive effects of the often misunderstood form of cannabis treatment. Pastor Shawn joined their effort and continues to serve as a resource for clergy, laity and anyone who will listen to the life and love received in the proper use of Marijuana.

Shawn currently serves on the advisory board of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. He organized and led the effort behind Clergy for Compassion, a petition initiative designed to show religious support for Medical Marijuana. And Shawn is engaged in the effort to decriminalize Marijuana because of the direct connection it shares to the opioid crisis and the brokenness we see in the criminal justice system and the horrible effects of the War on Drugs.

Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod — The Rev. Paul Metzloff

My own personal call to advocacy, especially in terms of environmentalism, comes from Jesus’ great commandment: “. . . love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength . . . and love your neighbor as your own.”   Caring for God’s creation seems to me to be one of the best ways to show love for God, and it also spills over into caring for our neighbors (and ourselves!).  Ensuring that all have breathable air, drinkable water, and adequate means to feed and provide for themselves is both environmentalism and justice.  As stewards of the Earth – a duty God clearly gives us – we are all called to participate in this work.  Whether through advocating, community gardening, teaching, preaching, investing, divesting, protesting, or something else, there are many and various ways for us as the church to do this.   Reforming our habits of consumption and destruction into humility and sustainability is the great moral challenge of the day.

Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod — The Rev. J. Kenneth Laber

I grew  up in a  poor mining village In Southwestern PA. During my early years many folks  who rode the boxcars through our village would get off and go begging for food at the village homes. My mother would always respond to their requests by putting a small table on the porch and offer them soup, sandwich with coffee or something else to drink. If these folks wanted more mother always provided them with additional food. One day I asked my mother, “why are we feeding all these folks since we don’t know them?” She responded with these words, “When folks are hungry, we feed them whether we know them or not.” As I grew in years I discovered these words from our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel, “Truly I tell  you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).” I became more supportive of the church’s hunger ministry.
From that time on I began began to realize that there are many hungry people in the world, and the Lord was calling  me to help feed these folks. Eliminating hunger has been my passion for many years. I have served on the Erie CROP Walk Board for many years. I chaired the Erie CROP Walk for four years. Over the years (1975-2016) Erie CROP Walk has raised over three million dollars and remains the top walk in Pennsylvania. I have also chaired the Committee on World Hunger in the Northwestern PA Synod, ELCA during the past seventeen years. Our synod ( a smaller one in the ELCA ) has raised nearly two million dollars for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal in this time.
Through these years of raising funds to eliminate, I have realized that it it takes more to erase world hunger. I have seen the importance of the advocacy ministry  as seen in the Lutheran Advocacy ministry in PA (LAMPA). Our government both state and national, have an important part to play with legislation. However, our legislators don’t always understand this. So, you and I and many others must generate and support legislation with the help of LAMPA and our Washington office  for advocacy that will help eliminate hunger.
I along with others in the NWPA Synod, ELCA have advocated for fossil fuel divestment  in Portico’s investments. We have supported legislation that serves to inform and speak for climate change that will affect hunger. We are presently working to form a “Green Team” in the synod that informs and speaks against the forces that hasten climate change. I applaud the advocacy ministry of LAMPA and the ELCA’s national advocacy office in Washington, D.C.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod — Ellen Daneke

Ellen Daneke spent her career as an executive of Information Technology in the financial industry.  Throughout her career, Ellen actively volunteered in her community, schools and church.  She spent 12 years supporting the PW Spartans Football and Cheerleading organization, was on the executive board for 6 years serving and served as President during her last 2 years in the organization.  Ellen then spent two years co-chairing the Suburban 1 Cheerleading Competition.

In her faith community Ellen served on council, seminarian internship committee, communications and website committee, co-directed VBS, worked with refugee resettlement, was lay Eucharistic ministry and coordinated, organized and chaperoned youth ELCA National Youth Gatherings.

Ellen’s passion for overcoming food insecurity led her to use her gifts to serve God’s people for the last 12 years.  The food ministry began with a simple concept of collaboration with a sister congregation by sharing the gifts of a suburban and city congregation to reach those who were food insecure. The ministry provided a weekly meal and a share table of fresh food and dry goods.  What began as a congregational support to the immediate community has expanded to include the wider community, multiple congregations of various denominations, a seminary, community organizations and senior living communities by sharing food, supplies and knowledge.

Ellen has a natural gift of networking enjoys sharing information with congregations that will help them in establishing relationship with local vendors to assist them with battling food insecurity in their own congregations and neighborhoods.   Over the last 12 years she has worked with 15 congregations, four community social service organizations, two senior living communities, one seminary, 10 companies and a host of individual families.

Currently she is the chair of social ministry at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Lafayette Hill, Synod representative on University Lutheran’s council and chair of the Forward Together In Faith campaign for Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod — Zion Lutheran Church, Penn Hills

Zion Lutheran Church in Penn Hills has a history of social ministry in the Penn Hills Community.
They are committed to ministry in and with those who they serve. In the last few years the poverty rate has greatly increase and the congregations mission to advocate for and serve those most at risk. Through the outreach of their food panty, the are on the front lines to serve the hungry and learn what other community needs there might be.  Because of the relationships they have built, Zion has been able serve as a place for public meetings, advocate for better public transportation services and are able to articular what is happening in Penn Hills. Members of the congregation have petitioned the municipal government and school district in the areas of affordable housing, food insecurity, clean water in the 9 Mile Run Water Shed, and school breakfast and after school programs.  We have developed relationships with the both the schools and PTA to develop programs and outreach for children in the community.
Their mission flows from the premise that Christ’s mission was that all might have abundant life, not a life of subsistence but a live of abundance.  During their monthly food distribution visitors to the pantry have the opportunity to meet with a nurse and other health professional, healthy and affordable cooking demos, and can set up appointments with other social service agencies i.e. Habitat For Humanity, The YWCA, Elder Care Agencies.
The congregation also engages in LAMPA and ELCA Advocacy Ministry letter writing campaigns.
Their food pantry garden and orchard  has committed to being organic because of their believe that poverty should not mean pesticides.
Currently, the congregation  partners with Jewish Family Services and the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh to serve  a site for traditional housing  for refugee families.

Upper Susquehanna Synod — The Rev. Richard Fangmann

My dad and I enjoyed debating one another in my younger years. We would take opposite sides of any issue, and seek to prove that “my” position was the correct one. We would use everything at our disposal – history, logic, faith – to back the other into a corner. The goal: to force the other to admit that they were wrong. I don’t remember that ever happening. Still it was fun, for a while, until I got tired of defending my small ideas and view of the world as somehow the truth. Somewhere along the way, conversations for me became less about winning or being right, and more about understanding one another and agreeing to seek the truth together. This truth for me is centered in this extravagant grace, mercy, and love of God for all people.

In order to pursue this goal of listening to and understanding one another within the community of Sunbury, a group of interfaith clergy have formed “Sunbury Together.” Members of our group include leaders of the local mosque, the Rabbi, the clergy person from the Unitarian Universalist Community, and several local Christian Pastors.  A deep sense of respect has developed between us as we have fostered relationships between our faith communities, and within the community at large. Over the past 1  ½ years, we have brought people together in ways that have developed understanding and acceptance of the “other.” While this has been important to our Moslem community members in particular, this journey has had a profound effect on us all as we together learn about life, faith, and love.