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New Coalition To Help Poor Being Formed By Churches

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Section Three

THE ANN ARBOR NEWS Ann Arbor, Michigan, Wednesday, September 23, 1970

Pages 33 to 46

New Coalition To Help Poor Being Formed By Churches

A new coalition—the Interfaith Coalition of Congregations—began to take shape early this week as 17 Washtenaw County churches met to organize aid to the local poor and disadvantaged.

An original coalition of 10 churches began to work toward a community-wide aid association three weeks ago as leaders of the Washtenaw County Black Economic Development League. Inc., and county Welfare Rights Organization (BEDL-WRO) continued to press for aid linked through the Black Manifesto.

The demands were first heard one year ago when Charles Thomas, BEDL president, began reading the Black Manifesto to city churches. He had read the demands to some six churches before being stopped by an injunction.

This year, sit-ins began Aug. 19 when Thomas and Mrs. Sandra Girard, BEDL treasurer at WRO member, started the 18-day occupation of the First United Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw.

Since mid-August about city churches have been visited and approached by BEDL-WRO for aid. The drive has resulted in funds from First Unitarian Church ($10,000), Friends Meetinghouse ($1,500), Beth Israel ($860 with more anticipated) and St. Aidan’s Episcopal ($400).

First United Methodist Church pledged $25,000 to aid the county poor but did not recognize BEDL-WRO as the administrative agent for the funds.

The other four congregations have issued statements recognizing BEDL and WRO as legitimate organizations and representatives of the county disadvantaged.

The original 10 sister churches began organizing as an answer to demands voiced by BEDL-WRO leaders. They also joined in injunctive action prohibiting BEDL-WRO leaders and agents from interfering with church worship and activities.

Included in that injunction action is the Beth Israel Jewish congregation. The press for aid and reparations at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church resulted in arrest for four BEDL-WRO agents. Their trial dates are set for next week.

The original coalition invited social service agencies—including BEDL-WRO—to join in forming the community association. Thomas responded to that action by calling the coalition “delaying tactic” and a measure to “avoid social responsibility collectively, rather than individually.”

He hit the original coalition proposal saying it failed to meet the immediate need of school clothing for some 3,200 welfare children; would be exploring areas already mapped by BEDL-WRO, and did not recognize the legitimacy of BEDL-WRO.

Monday evening representative area churches met at Trinity Lutheran Church to organize the interfaith body. The meeting was chaired by the Rev. RIchard Preis, pastor at Trinity Lutheran. Mr. Preis is also president of the Washtenaw City Council of Churches.

The working document of the coalition is a statement of se and organization set by a steering committee of laymen and clergy appointed weeks ago.

The document begins with a statement of compassion and says: “As congregations of Washtenaw County, we are banding together to respond to the needs of our county through financial effort, legislative, and social action, and continuing study. By our unified involvement, it is our intent to meet the needs more effectively."

Coalition congregations will be asked to provide funds, services, and facilities to achieve its ends. Membership is open to all county churches.

A meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 4 to complete the organization for the new body. Following this meeting, Mr. Preis said officers and member congregations will be announced.

He said 38 congregations were represented at the meeting this week, although only 17 had power from their administrative boards to make commitments to the interfaith coalition. (Organizational structuring and responsibilities will also be explained after the October meeting.)

Four goals were set in the coalition document: (1) To insure ways and means for the poor and disadvantaged to participate in the study, decision making, distribution of funds and legislative activity of the coalition;

2) To receive and distribute funds to achieve the purpose;

3) To make a continuing study of the problems of the poor and disadvantaged in the county and with the aid of agencies and persons, public and private, recommend funds;

4) To approach county, state, and national legislators to urge them to inaugurate programs to make it possible for the poor and disadvantaged to achieve an adequate standard of living.

Mr. Preis said. "This coalition of congregations has the potential of being a positive force that is needed in our community at this time. It can be that positive force because congregations are uniting to face the issues before us.”

He said BEDL-WRO leaders have not been contacted with the new coalition document. BEDL-WRO leaders this week are continuing their meetings with other city churches.