Meet the Church of the Palms Social Justice Champions: Pam & Paul Clark

Each year, the Social Justice Action Team selects an individual(s) to receive the Social Justice Champion Award. The person(s) chosen best exemplifies our guiding scripture “And what does the LORD require of us but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8. Selection criteria includes: History of being active in social justice ministries, personal actions challenging injustices and effecting change though education, advocacy, activism. Pam and Paul clearly meet these criteria.

Pam Clark

Pam began her advocacy work while living in Douglas, AZ, on the border with Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico in the mid ‘60s. Her church helped a congregation in Agua Prieta, Mexico, to refurbish their own church and, working together across the border, they collected clothing for children living in poverty. It was while in Douglas that Pam’s passion for creation justice was born.

Douglas was controlled by the economic presence of Phelps Dodge copper mining in nearby Bisbee and smelting operations at the town smelter. Douglas also was the gateway to Mexico. When the first Earth Day was created in 1970, Pam became acutely aware that Phelps Dodge was a huge polluter in the area and also was the source of employment for most of the local residents. The smelter worked at peak levels at night because the nighttime winds carried the acrid sulfur dioxide smoke into Mexico, rather than Douglas. People who objected were told that the smoke represented dollars in paychecks.

From that early awakening to this day, Pam continues to work to protect the environment and advocate for those marginalized. She adopted a plant-based diet in 2013 and learned about the plight of animals in contemporary mass farming and slaughter operations, which has a direct and negative influence on global warming and climate change.

When Pam came to Church of the Palms, she joined the Mission and Outreach Board, where she and Paul worked to establish the original Social Justice Committee, which preceded the Social Justice Action Team. In 2012, they examined the issue of undocumented youth, now known as DACA students. Pam has worked with Shadow Rock UCC in its refugee/sanctuary program. In 2008, Pam while with Paul in Indonesia, worked with young women to help them better understand money, saving and planning their future. Finally, Pam has been involved with UMOM’s New Day Center in central Phoenix, as well as outreach programs for several churches along the Mexican border.

Rev. Paul Clark, retired

In 1957, while Paul served at Tenafly Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, he was invited to visit mission personnel in Hong Kong. The Head of Church World Service (an agency supported by Church of the Palms UCC) urged Paul to visit a large group of White Russian refugees (non-Communist Christians) who were stranded in Hong Kong. Paul had an opportunity to visit the refugees, an experience he found to be deeply moving.

When Paul returned to the Tenafly Church, he preached a sermon asking congregants to write to government officials urging them to act on behalf of the stranded refugees. As a result, Paul was invited to appear before U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees. He also secured an invitation for the local young Russian Orthodox priest to go to Washington with him. As a result, the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees reassigned more than $60,000 to help relocate the refugee families, some to the U.S. and some to Brazil.

So began Paul’s journey in the world of social justice challenges and projects. While living near New York City, Paul served on the U. S. Committee for Refugees. In Ithaca, New York, Paul helped to assemble five busloads of Cornell students and staff, community clergy and others as they became part of the “March on Washington.” Paul led one of the committees of clergy traveling to Washington as “Clergy Concerned Regarding the Vietnam War.” In Tenafly, Ithaca, and San Diego, Paul secured housing for the poor or newcomers to those communities, including those from Vietnam, Central America and Cuba.

In 2012, Paul and Pam began the original Church of the Palms Social Justice Committee.

Despite some recent health challenges Pam and Paul Clark continue to be advocates for social justice. Congratulations for being this year’s Social Justice Champions.

I-HELP: Church of the Palms Provides Relief to the Homeless

Over a year ago our Social Justice Action Team was exploring ways to address the growing homeless population in our corner of Maricopa County. We learned of a program that was being used in Avondale and four of our members went to see the program in action at the First Baptist Church.

The program was I-HELP run by Lutheran Social Services and it was having success, twelve homeless people at a time. LSS provided the staff and resources for the program; churches provided housing and food for the guests for up to 90 days until they were settled in their own housing. It was not a short term solution, like a soup kitchen or a shelter, but an intentional effort, focused on adults who had lost their housing through some bad fortune and needed temporary help to get back on their feet.

With the blessing of the COTP staff and the church council, members of the Social Justice Action Team began conversations with LSS and the city of Surprise, offering to be a host church should an I-HELP program be developed in the North West Valley. LSS acquired the grant money needed to staff the program, other churches were recruited to host and the program was launched on Sunday, October 27, 2019.

A twenty member I-HELP Committee at COTP has been working for several months planning and preparing to host I-HELP every Monday evening beginning 10/28/’19. Many volunteers have already committed to drive the bus, provide food and stay overnight in addition to financial support.

Church of the Palms will make a difference in the lives of our neighbors who ‘need a hand up, not a hand out’. It will also be a blessing to our volunteers who show generosity and hospitality to our guests, a win-win endeavor.

Social Justice Action Team Works with Dysart Community Center

At a recent meeting, the Social Justice Action Team approved working through the Board of Mission & Outreach to establish a long-term relationship with the Dysart Community Center. The reason for this decision is that the center embraces the same purpose as our team: to serve the needs of the marginalized, oppressed, and often forgotten. The mission statement of the Dysart Community Center is: To provide educational and developmental opportunities for low-income children and adults in our local communities.

Dysart Community Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 1962 by a group of 12 determined volunteers to provide basic health and educational resources to local families on the verge of poverty. Educating those in need was the first priority for these volunteers and remains so today. From its founding more than fifty years ago, Dysart Community Center has expanded its services to provide a variety of educational programs for thousands of West Valley residents in our local communities. Today it proudly serves our community with GED, ESL, and citizenship courses for adults; after-school and summer care for youth; and access to various basic needs resources for families and individuals.

The center believes that by empowering the community through education while providing relief from various social and economic stresses, it can play an important part in helping community members reach the full potential of their character and capabilities. Dysart Community Center’s work with migrant families and assisting homeless is very much in line with the priorities of the Church of the Palms Social Action Team.

Homeless Ministry in Sun City and the West Valley

Most of us take a lot for granted, including a permanent address, a place to lay our head at night, a place we call home. But an increasing number of people are homeless across the United States, in Arizona, in Maricopa County and in our own communities. A recent newspaper article reported the number of homeless in Glendale doubled over the previous year and Surprise, that counted no homeless as recent as 2014, is identifying a homeless population, albeit small, but very visible and of concern to many residents.

What is the face of the homeless? From data gathered in January of 2017, single adults account for 72% of the homeless population; men make up 64% of that number. Families represent 27% of the population. In Maricopa County 35% of the homeless were over 45 years of age; 6% were over 62, up from 4% in 2015.

The Social Justice Action Team is seeking ways for our church to be a leader in addressing this growing concern in Sun City and the West Valley. Members of the committee have been in conversation with Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, the sponsors of IHELP (Interfaith Housing Emergency Lodging Program). Team members have visited an active IHELP church and have shared information and a timeline with the Church Council.

IHELP is a working program that provides case management, life planning, finance counseling, job search and preparation, employment services, health care referrals, vital documentation assistance and enrollment in public benefits through LSS staff supervision and guidance. Individuals in the program have 90 days of shelter and meals at no charge. The goal of the program is to move persons from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Multiple churches provide places of shelter and a meal; a Lutheran Social Services case worker implements the IHELP program and provides the services.

At this point the SJAT has more questions than answers. As we continue to develop a plan of action and work in cooperation with other churches to address the needs of the homeless, be in prayer for the homeless and those who provide shelter/food to meet their daily needs. For more information on this project please contact: Max Klinkenborg maxklink@yahoo.com.

Next Steps in Discerning COTP Involvement with the people of Israel/Palestine

The Church of the Palms Social Justice Action Team has begun a conversation on ways we might continue to learn about and engage with the people living in Israel/Palestine.

75 COTP members attended the fellowship breakfast in March at which Daoud Nassar spoke (founder of the Tent of Nations outside of Bethlehem). 20 members participated in a four-week study group held in the spring of 2017. We would like to continue to build on the interest and support expressed by congregation members to these two events. The team came up with three possible ways of continuing our learning and ministry in this part of the world. (There may be others and you are welcome to suggest them.)

Please take a minute to email Beth Moore at ebmoore1@live.com to let her know if you are interested in any, or all of the following. Your response at this time is not a final commitment, but a way to hear from those of you who have an interest. Please include your full name in your email.

Learning
Engaging in additional learning opportunities about Israel/Palestine. For example a four week study using a text/written materials, or a DVD / film followed by discussion.

Advocacy
Being part of a group to receive email updates from Beth on events in Israel / Palestine (approximately monthly) with a request to take “action”. This usually means making a call to congressional representatives to express your opinion / thoughts about the issue. Often “talking points” are provided if you wish to use them.

Travel
Participation in a 10 -14 day trip to the Holy Land that would include opportunities to hear from both Israelis and Palestinians about their search for a just peace, as well as visits to some of the historical holy sites. This would also include a visit to the Tent of Nations with opportunities to volunteer. Timing to be decided but could be Fall of 2019 or Spring of 2020.

Fundraising
Contributing to or helping to raise funds for a special gift to the Tent of Nations – for example olive or fruit trees, or a piece of equipment they need. This might be done in conjunction with a planned trip and could be taken by the group travelling to the farm.