Public Policy Sunday: Illiteracy and poverty
Sunday means more than prayers and hymns for the parishioners of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; it means examining how their religious belief is to be put into practice to make the lives of other people better. And one Sunday each year is set aside for a special focus for the congregation to examine together.
St. Mark’s has observed Public Policy Sunday each spring for more than a decade, focusing on hunger, poverty, and health, both at home and abroad. Over the years, the program has helped generate support for Penn Yan’s Community Garden, Milly’s Pantry, and Bread for the World. This year’s focus is literacy and the connection between illiteracy and poverty.
Featured speakers for Public Policy Sunday, April 6 were Angela Gonzalez, executive director of the Penn Yan Public Library; Paul J. Miller, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Ontario-Yates; and Anne Schuhle, executive director of Geneva Reads.
Gonzalez spoke on the impact of illiteracy on income, as well as the impact of poverty on educational success. Miller and Schuhle described their organizations programs, both the successes and challenges, and outlined ways St. Mark’s volunteers and others can make an impact in the drive toward 100 percent literacy. St. Mark’s Vestry Member and Literacy Volunteer John Hunter also described the need to advance computer literacy along with reading and writing skills in the age of technology.
It was fortuitous that the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Bishop Prince Singh, chose Public Policy Sunday to make his annual visit to St. Mark’s. Bishop Singh has a significant history with literacy programs.
“Enlightenment is a lifelong process for every human being for which literacy is a significant asset,” said Singh. “I applaud the efforts of the faithful people of St. Mark’s along with their friends from the local library and Literacy Volunteers for bringing attention to this gap in our society. I grew up with a mother who was director of Adult literacy 45 years ago in Chennai, India. She worked for the YWCA and was a pioneer in what they called ‘functional literacy,’ which was about creatively using the work contexts of women to custom teach them the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). Let us join the saints of St. Mark’s by doing our part to reduce the gaps between our policies and practice, as well as between isolation and companionship and move beyond being nice people to becoming good people. May literacy flourish in our lifetime!”
St. Mark’s parishioners are asked to put literacy efforts forward in their intentional acts to positively impact the world. This can be by charitable giving, personal volunteering, and public advocacy. It is believed that by such efforts, they live out the truth of their religious beliefs.
St. Mark’s Rector David Grant Smith explains; “Public Policy Sunday is an outgrowth of the Public Policy Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester as a way for people of faith to unite the church with contemporary issues, by affirming that we bring our faith into all aspects of our lives, not the least of which is how we interact in the public square. All of us, no matter our religious persuasion, have core values that we hold to be important to the way that we believe humanity should behave toward one another. The day affirms the opposite of the commonly held assertion that ‘politics and religion don’t mix.’
“Spending a Sunday looking at the way that life in the public sector and our faith interact with one another can be a way for people of faith to begin to see that religion really and truly is mixing with politics on a daily basis; we can never separate the way that we treat one another from what we believe to be true about matters of faith.”
“Most of the Bible,” says Smith, “and most of what people in the Bible say, is about how people treat one another; and politics is all about the way that we as a society interact with each other.”