As in past years, I and several of my parishioners attended the annual "Carry the Torch" fundraising luncheon for Knoxville's Volunteer Ministry Center. (VMC was founded by a group of downtown churches back in 1987 to deal with the growing problem of homelessness in the community..VMC operates four main programs: the VMC Resource Center, the Bush Family Refuge, Minvilla Manor, and the VMC Dental Clinic. The goal for all VMC's clients is housing, utilizing case management and a "Housing First" approach in order to combat - and end - homelessness.)
The featured speaker at this year's lunch was Erin Gruwell, an educator and president of The Freedom Writers Foundation. When teaching English at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA, she responded to her students and the way so many of them were effectively written off by the educational system. She transformed their classroom experience and in the process helped transform her students’ lives. Her and their story was captured in The Freedom Writers Diary - How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The book became the basis for the film, The Freedom Writers, in which Hilary Swank played the role of Erin Gruwell.
This year, I was privileged to be invited to deliver the Invocation (which explains why I as at the front table, from which I took the above photo.). My prayer was:
Almighty and ever faithful God, you created men and women in your image and commanded us to recognize your image in one another.
We thank you for speaking your word to us and commissioning us to bring your word to all in the gathering of grace that is your kingdom on earth.
We ask you to enable us to recognize the extent and variety of human needs in our community, and to continue to come together as your people to respond to those needs.
We ask you to strengthen and bless this collaboration that we may accomplish the goals you have set for us.
Bless all of us gathered here today to support this ministry and to witness to our mission to extend your kingdom in our world.
Send us forth from here renewed in our commitment as neighbors to one another, practitioners of your peace, promoters of your justice, and servants of your compassion and mercy.
Bless this meal we share that it may be a sign to us of your blessing and our calling to share your blessing with all.
All this we ask of You who live and reign for ever and ever