Episcopal City Mission’s Lobby Day on April 9 will both celebrate Bishop Tom Shaw’s leadership in social activism and carry it forward. Episcopalians are invited to gather with Shaw at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston for a celebration in his honor, and then walk together to the State House to discuss minimum wage legislation with their state representatives.
Episcopal City Mission has been actively involved with Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of groups working to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour and grant five days of earned sick time to all full-time employees.
“We are asking people to go to their legislators and say, ‘As Christians, as Episcopalians, we believe this is the right thing to do,’” said Ruy Costa, Executive Director of Episcopal City Mission.
Bishop Tom Shaw continues to be engaged with issues of social justice, as he has been throughout his nearly 20-year episcopacy. From city neighborhoods to the international stage, Shaw has been a vocal advocate for peace, equality and social and economic justice. A long relationship with Episcopal City Mission (ECM) is part of that legacy.
ECM began holding lobby days in 2001, and has organized a total of seven such events, concentrating on issues including homelessness, affordable housing, youth programs and jobs, and health care. Shaw has been a presence at ECM lobby days since their inception.
“Tom has led the lobby days for many years... [and] except for one year where he was on sabbatical, he has always led people from here to the State House. Everyone would gather and then Tom would send them to go talk to their legislators,” said Costa.
Costa recalled Shaw’s swift action in 2012 when the state legislature was considering a “three strikes” bill, which would enforce mandatory sentencing without parole after three criminal convictions.
“Tom convened a group and decided on the spot that he wanted to put together a task force, and asked me to facilitate that task force,” Costa said. “We got to work, and produced language about criminal justice reform that went to Convention to give the bishop and the diocese a formal policy to stand on regarding the three strikes law.”
“This is something that Tom led: he called on Episcopalians, especially clergy, to respond to the three strikes initiative because it was so maddening and unfair. That is to his credit, that he took the initiative to act on that.”
Shaw also joined with ECM as a presence during Occupy Boston, which was encamped in Dewey Square in Boston’s financial district from October to December of 2011. For Costa, Shaw’s presence among the protesters and activists of the Occupy movement spoke volumes.
"We invited him to go with us to the weekly service at Occupy Boston, and he came—that’s not something too many bishops would do,” he said. “We’re proud that our bishop is not afraid of addressing economic injustices, of standing with protestors against bad banking policies.”
Shaw said in an interview that he has valued the leadership of Episcopal City Mission on issues of social justice, and that he has looked to the it many times for education.
“One of the reasons I have such high regard for Episcopal City Mission is the way it’s educated me on what’s the best way for us as Christian men and women to preach the Gospel, on these issues that Jesus would have been concerned about,” said Shaw. “[The work of ECM] is Christian mission because these are the things Jesus wanted to have happen. These things that the diocese and ECM are involved in come straight from the Gospel.”
“ECM has taught me a tremendous amount…they’ve given me ways to speak the Gospel word on behalf of the people of the diocese. I often look to them for the direction I should take and the work I should do," he said. "I have tremendous gratitude to ECM for inspiring the diocesan church to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Shaw pointed out the relationship between the Gospel to the work of social justice, a connection he sees in the work of ECM.
“The Gospel invites us into the dignity of every human being in God’s creation," said Shaw, "and one of the ways we’re invited to experience the dignity of every human being is by providing them with what they need to experience the creation God has given all of us to share.”
Lobby Day on April 9 will serve as the official kick-off of the diocese’s Season of Service and Celebration, a period from April through June when congregations and individuals are encouraged to undertake public service in Shaw’s honor as he prepares to retire later this year.
Lobby Day will open with prayer and a slideshow celebrating Shaw’s collaboration with ECM over the years.
Before walking to the State House, ECM will help attendees prepare to talk with their legislators. There will be plenty of information available on the current legislation to raise the minimum wage, but Costa emphasized that no one has to be an expert in order to make their opinion known.
“People sometimes feel intimidated going to the State House and talking to reps, they feel they don’t know enough to talk to their state rep. But rule number one is you don’t have to be an expert,” Costa said. “The job of people going to talk to their reps is not to educate their reps, their job is simply to say, as a person who votes for you, I want you to vote this way. You don’t need to apologize, or solve the problem for them, just tell them what you expect as a voter.”
Joe Sheeran, ECM’s public policy intern, said that the two most important things Lobby Day attendees can do are RSVP to ECM, and make an appointment with their legislators, to take place between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. on April 9. He also urges attendees to coordinate with other people in their communities to go talk to their legislators together.
“Let us know you’re coming, and let your reps know you’re coming,” said Sheeran. “That’s how you can be an effective voice for justice. We will celebrate Tom and his work, and then he’ll send us out to do that work,” he said.
Costa said that for ECM, Lobby Day is a truly fitting way to celebrate a bishop who has been a voice for justice.
“This is a witness to Tom’s leadership in the public square for justice,” Costa said. “He invests himself, at great risk sometimes, to stand up for justice.”
The April 9 Lobby Day begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul at 138 Tremont Street in Boston. The procession to the State House will begin at noon. Attendees are asked to register on the Eventbrite page for Lobby Day. To learn more about Episcopal City Mission and the Raise Up Massachusetts Campaign, please visit the ECM Web site.