Read EHF congregational engagement officer Willie Bennett’s conversation with Alan Yarborough, Office of the Bishop, Church Relations Officer about opportunities for Civic Engagement presented by the 2020 Census and upcoming elections.
Willie Bennett: Alan, we were delighted to have you with us at our In Common Austin event Feb. 28-29. In our workshop, Faithful Citizenship, you had a chance to tell us about The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and the initiatives that encourage parishes to participate in civic life of their communities. We’d like to give you the opportunity to share that with our readers.
Alan: Thanks, Willie—it was a pleasure to be a part of such an engaging event for the people in the Diocese of Texas. The Office of Government Relations is a part of the church-wide staff, and we are responsible for representing the Church’s policy positions to the U.S. federal government. Those policy positions come from our Church’s elected legislative and governing bodies, General Convention and Executive Council.
Our office also works to educate, equip and engage Episcopalians on federal level advocacy and civic engagement. This year in particular civic engagement is even more important with the 2020 Census and 2020 election underway.
Willie Bennett: Tell us about the Census and Vote Faithfully initiatives.
Alan: Sure. First for the census, we urge all Episcopalians to take part in the 2020 United States Census. The Episcopal Church is actually an official partner for this census, and in that work, we are pledging to help the U.S. Census Bureau get a complete count, and to help people to understand why it is so important.
Research shows that someone is more likely to take the Census if they hear about it from someone they trust. Faith groups like us, through the trusted ministries we lead in our communities, are well situated to reach historically hard-to-count populations, which is a critical goal of the Census Bureau. These groups include people experiencing homelessness, people who move frequently or live in nonstandard housing, racial and ethnic minorities, children, non-English speakers, LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and immigrants. These are all our neighbors.
Taking the census ourselves and helping others take the census is not just a selfish act, but an act that can help our elderly neighbors get the services they need. It helps our children benefit from free or reduced lunch programs and gain access to funding opportunities for education. It ensures all of us can get the representation in Congress we deserve.
Second, on election engagement, we are following Presiding Bishop Curry’s call to get souls to the polls this election season! Just like with the census, we each have a personal call/responsibility/duty to cast our vote, if we can, but we can also go much farther. Our Vote Faithfully toolkit is designed to help congregations identify creative ways they can encourage their communities to vote—from advertising registration and early voting deadlines, to hosting candidate forums, to organizing volunteers to provide rides to the polls and providing childcare on Election Day.
Presiding Bishop Curry said, “It is a Christian obligation to vote, and more than that, it is the church’s responsibility to help get souls to the polls.” Certainly, our eyes are on the presidential election, but there are so many other races going on in Congress, governorships, and state and local offices as well. We encourage Episcopalians to pay attention to the election at all levels—including, if your state has them, ballot initiatives.
I also want to add that there are so many ways to engage the elections, and we want to hear from you all about what you’re doing in your community.
Willie Bennett: Great! If people want to get the resources you mentioned, how should they contact you?
Alan: The best way to stay up to date with our resources is to join our Episcopal Public Policy Network email list and follow us on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @TheEPPN. We also continuously update the resources on our website here: https://episcopalchurch.org/office-government-relations
If you want to get in touch directly, you can email our office at [email protected].
Willie Bennett: Thanks again Alan and we look forward to working with you in the future.