Federal Workers in Maryland Find Help at the Black Church

Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights, with “Furlough Sisters” Nikki Howard, center, and Jaqi Wright at Lee’s church on Monday. Howard and Wright started a cheesecake business while idled and unpaid during the partial government shutdown. (Courtland Milloy/The Washington Post)

A town hall meeting about the impact of the partial government shutdown, held Monday at Community of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights, Md., was a powerful example of social justice ministry in action.

“We don’t want anybody to leave feeling the way they did when they came in,” Tony Lee, pastor of the church, told the hundreds of furloughed federal employees and contractors who showed up.

It was a tall order, given the gloom in the room. But if there was any place such a pall could be lifted, it was the church.

Prince George’s County, where Community of Hope is located, has one of the largest concentrations of federal employees in the nation. Missed paychecks and a furlough with no end in sight after a month has caused a lot of stress and economic insecurity in a jurisdiction still recovering from the recession and housing market collapse more than a decade ago.

“I’m used to being the giver, a person who helps others,” a woman who had been furloughed told the town hall. “Now I have to be a receiver, and I don’t know where to go to receive anything. Where do I get money for medication? I have headaches and wake up at night with heart palpitations. I’ve never had to withstand anything like this.”

The woman was immediately embraced by those sitting around her. Lee approached, handed her some money to make it through the emergency and directed her to a row of tables where representatives from various social service agencies were standing by to help.

Community of Hope is known as a “hip hope” church. It features rousing sermons, dynamic music and dance, and has one of the largest congregations of mostly African American youths in the area. Modernized though it is, the church is still rooted in a tradition of service and economic uplift pioneered by Richard Allen, who was born into slavery but freed himself and founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. It was the first independent black church in the United States.

Those gathered at the town hall were asked to dip into that historical well of faith, collective effort and determination to defeat despair and triumph over economic insecurity.

“It’s rough right now, but we will all get through it,” said Prince George’s County Council member Monique Anderson-Walker (D-District 8).

But she also wanted the attendees to consider ways to make sure they were not so vulnerable to the next financial crisis, whatever the cause.

“We need to look at opportunities to gain multiple streams of income,” said Anderson-Walker, who is on the council’s workforce development committee. “You can have a job but also a side hustle. We can help you do that.”

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Source: Washington Post