Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment

– from Fr. Keith Oglesby

ICARE has been the focus for justice ministry at Christ Church for several years. When I started in mid-January of 2019,I began meeting and talking with people involved in this good work. Mary Watson was the Justice Ministry leader for our congregation over the last few years. She brought me up to speed with the ministry and helped me to understand how it could make a difference in our community. I also met with The Rev. Kammy Young who started the work with ICARE at Christ Church several years ago. She remains fully committed to justice ministry through DART (Direct Action Research Training) which is the parent organization of ICARE. Kammy is now based in Pensacola, FL and has started another justice ministry in that community.

My first experience of how ICARE does their ministry was attending the Nehemiah Assembly on April 1, 2019 at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Mary set up the logistics for our members to attend—pizza in the parish center and a bus trip to the church. At the Assembly, I learned the basic methods for this justice action. Based on input from the community and research by activists, we were going to make specific requests of local Duval County officials—Sheriff Michael Williams, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, and School Superintendent Dr. Diana Green.

At this Assembly, prior year successes were acknowledged, especially the use of civil citations for juvenile offenders. This keeps young people who committed minor offenses out of the criminal justice system. Instead, they begin a process of restorative justice that includes working with Neighborhood Accountability Boards. Focus this year included increased transparency from JSO and the State Attorney’s office regarding arrest and prosecution statistics. There was also a request for the new school superintendent to learn about restorative practices for the schools.  We will see what the results are during the 2020 Nehemiah Assembly. I hope many of you will attend.

So far this year I have invested a good portion of my continuing education in DART justice training—five days in July and three days November. I have learned many things, but two stand out—

  1. Jesus described the “weightier things” of the law to include justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Churches do well at faithfulness—attending worship, Bible study, praying, etc. And churches do pretty well at mercy—ministries to help individuals and families (e.g., BEAM and Mission House). Churches tend not to focus on justice because it is harder to do and more complex. We want to change that imbalance at Christ Church.
  2. One way to address social justice issues is through “people power.” That is organizing people of faith to understand pressing community problems; research the best solutions recommended by professionals and implemented in other communities; and then call our local leaders to meet with us publicly so we can make our requests and hold them accountable for changes.

In my next post, I will summarize what the Christ Church justice ministry has been doing over the past four months as part of the ICARE process for 2020.