Resounding Success

Our 15th anniversary celebration last Sunday was a resounding success. My thanks to those of you who helped to make it so.

Friends were grateful for the opportunity to see one another. The music was outstanding. The food was good. (As one of those present said to me, “I came so that I could find out the meaning of the term “heavy hors d’oeuvres.”)

But for me, it is the words of several of our speakers that in the long run will mean the most.

John Bouman, President of the Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law, had agreed this summer to accept our highest honor, the William Sloane Coffin Award for Justice and Peace. About two weeks ago I stopped by John’s office to ask if he would make some remarks. On the way over, I wondered how he would respond since I had not asked him about this earlier.

With John, not to worry. “We don’t get a chance to talk very often about why we do the work we do,” he observed.

Here is some of what he said at the event:

“… it is important and valuable to win positive changes that improve lives and equalize opportunities…but that will always be counterbalanced by the work still to do. The real goal and the lasting satisfaction come from the effort itself. To engage in a useful life, to strive for excellence, to revel in good colleagues, to serve those who need help, to re-balance the power equations in society, to increase the measure of justice just by being in the game…” Read more.

Bill Coffin would have been proud that John Bouman has received the award bearing his name.

On Sunday I was also especially grateful for the words of Chris Gamwell, Professor of Religious Ethics at the University of Chicago and PCG board member. Over the past 15 years, I have come to recognize the massive damage which the Christian right has inflicted upon the Christian faith. It has made Christianity repugnant to many thinking people.

In his statement Some Things Abide, Some Things Change Chris corrected the wrong-minded view, advanced by the far religious right, that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ can know God: “To the contrary, God’s promise and purpose are ever-present in the deepest awareness, however dim or inchoate, of every human purpose, and Jesus in Christian experience re-presents God’s love with clarity and power, the way a new dawn lights up the world we were in all the time.”

Chris has helped to shape our Common Good Agenda over the past 15 years. Earlier than most, he called our attention to the wealth and income inequality that now threatens our democracy. But in the long run, his greatest contribution may be his calling out the bad theology of the extreme religious right.

The day after the event our staff was recalling highlights. We were gratified that several of our former interns and other young people were present and enthusiastic about our work.

Courtney Eccles, who came to PCG as a Northwestern undergraduate over four years ago and now serves as an assistant director, captured this thought in her “Sending Forth”:

“When I graduated, I jumped at the opportunity to join the staff doing organizing work with churches, outreach, and policy work—and I’ve never looked back—I am just one of many students, seminarians, and recent graduates that seeks out PCG because we believe in the work and want to be involved. To me, this is a clear and powerful message that 15 years after its formation, PCG’s mission, goals, and vision are relevant and continue to appeal to all generations.”

We are grateful for the presence of so many of you, for the words we heard on Sunday, and for all those who will carry our work forward over the next fifteen years.

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