By Stanley Campbell
This Saturday, Dec. 11, the Rev. Michael Mann, former associate pastor at Court Street United Methodist Church, will return to Rockford for the annual Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM) Christmas peace program.
The Rev. Mann is now the associate director of Mission and Advocacy for the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, a position relating to all 400 United Methodist congregations in the Chicago-Rockford-DeKalb area. He will speak from Isaiah 2:1-5, including that famous passage inscribed at the United Nations, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The Rev. Mann will speak about what he has learned in the past five months in his new position, especially about migration and working for peace in our world.
Here is an interview with the Rev. Mann:
Q. After only five months, what has been the highlight of your new job?
A. “I love my work! A highlight was my return to Bolivia. Our Annual Conference helped to build a church there, and I was part of the delegation that dedicated that building. I had gone to Bolivia about eight years ago when I was a missionary. I was amazed to see what had changed and what had remained the same. There has been a tremendous internal migration out of the countryside and into the cities, especially the capital, La Paz. Just one suburb grew from a few hundred thousand people to over 2 million people. It’s an example for us today, especially as our country tries to address migrants from all over.”
Q. Your new title is associate director of Mission and Advocacy. I know what Mission is, but what is Advocacy?
A. “We all think we know what Mission is. Unfortunately, we usually define missions as a pet project we do. We love painting walls for a needy person or digging a water well far, far away. Or, we give money so a missionary teaches people how to be decent Midwesterners who write just the nicest thank-you notes. Those are great things to do. But they’re not really Mission.
“My job is about inviting people to God’s mission. Mission is not far away. It’s how we act right here. A part of Mission is learning from those we want to help (and we still have a lot to learn). Those people, those ‘poor people,’ they are really our co-workers in God’s mission. That co-working leads to advocacy.
“Advocacy can be uncomfortable. It is about changing systems (including laws) that are hurtful to the very people we want to help, the people we need in order to do God’s mission. Usually, that means we have to change. Advocacy asks us to change how we live, even what we buy and say.”
Q. What will you talk about next week at the Rockford Urban Ministries’ Annual Christmas Peace program?
“I’ll use the migration I saw in Bolivia as a lens for this Advent/Christmas season. I’ll refer to Isaiah, too, because there’s so much we can do. Come on out and see!”
The program is free and open to the public. Hosted at Court Street United Methodist Church, 215 N. Court St., in downtown Rockford, reception is at 6:30 p.m., program is at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 11, in the dining hall.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Dec. 8-14, 2010 issue