Bridges Out of Poverty and United Methodist Church Community Ministries
The focus of our recent Community Ministry Festival was Building Bridges Out of Poverty. Here is a summary of what Bridges means for United Methodists as we seek to build relationships with the people we serve.
Bridges Out of Poverty is not a program; it is a method or tool to help bring “good news to the poor” and good news to those who want to faithfully serve Jesus and help people out of poverty. It is not a workshop to make us feel good that we are helping poor people, or that we have what poor people need or know how to fix their problems. We don’t. It is a lifetime commitment to being co-learners with persons struggling with poverty by slowly building meaningful relationships in which we stand alongside but do not advise or control. Together is the way solutions can be found.
There are four main aspects of Bridges out of Poverty: 1) Training for middle class persons, 2) Classes for persons in poverty 3) Putting Bridges concepts into practice in the places we serve and 4) Forming and becoming a Bridges Community- impacting the whole society.
1) Training for Middle class persons- This is called the Bridges Out of Poverty Workshop, which is usually either a half day or a whole day. APoverty Simulation can be offered in the morning, in which each person experiences what it is like being a person living with limited resources through a role play simulation, followed by a three hour workshop in the afternoon. The purpose of the workshop is to help participants identify their own mental models (the lens through which they see the world) and the mental models of persons living in poverty. Poverty is defined as having a lack of resources (financial, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, support systems, role models, and knowledge of the hidden rules pertaining to a particular economic class- the unspoken habits of the group).
2) Classes for persons living in poverty called Getting Ahead Classes- 20 classes are held once or week or twice a week. They are facilitated not taught. The purpose of the classes is for persons in poverty to gradually understand the mental model and hidden rules of poverty and the middle class and to develop their own strategy and plans to move from their current situation to their future story (preferred future). People in poverty are problem solvers. When their environment can be stabilized and they are given support, they are able to build future stories, practice making their own choices and develop power and influence. Churches can partner with the court system and other organizations in the community to offer these classes. The cost is around $8,000 for 15 people. A stipend, childcare and a meal are provided for each person for every class they attend. Grants through Community Ministries are available to help cover the costs.
3) Putting Bridges out of Poverty concepts into practice- once a church has a group of people who have attended Day 1 of the Bridges out of Poverty training, they can attend a Day Two training, which helps them think through how they can concretely put Bridges concepts into practice in their setting. They can also move toward offering a Getting Ahead class in their setting in collaboration with others in the local community.
4) Forming a Bridges Community-once the above pieces are in place, the churches, Getting Ahead graduates, agencies and organizations in the community come together to form a Guiding Coalition. This group meets on a regular basis and is the steering committee for ongoing Bridges work. They look at the continuum of birth through adulthood of persons in poverty and work on strategies to support persons each step of the way and increase the wellbeing of the society as a whole. This also means advocating for change in the society at the local, state and national levels. In a Bridges Community there is no longer any we or they- instead everyone is working together to find solutions that will make the community a better place for everyone to live.
In summary, Bridges out of Poverty is not a one day workshop or a class for low income persons. Ultimately it is a way to help both persons in the middle class and persons in poverty to see that the best way to find solutions to problems in our community is through the expertise and leadership of the persons who know the most about poverty- people who have been living in poverty- not the middle class. We don’t have the solutions- we can’t fix people. But, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we have the motivation to serve and to love people who are struggling. With Bridges out of Poverty tools we can rethink how we serve and do it in a way that is both effective and brings about real transformation at all levels in our communities. The transformation starts within you and me.