Across the country, thousands of people of faith are coming together right now to advocate for children in need through National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® celebrations. This annual celebration, held every third weekend in October, provides a time for faith communities to strengthen their existing efforts for children, discover new opportunities, and respond to the Divine mandate to nurture, protect, and advocate for all children. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) sponsors the Children’s Sabbath with the assistance of a multi-faith advisory committee and the endorsement of hundreds of denominations and religious organizations. Every year, CDF compiles a multi-faith resource manual that guides the Children’s Sabbaths celebrations and the communities’ year-round child and family advocacy work.
The theme of the 2010 Children’s Sabbath is “Blessed to Be a Blessing.” Through worship, prayer, and actions, faith communities are affirming children as the primary blessing God has given us and committing together to working to end child poverty. In Genesis, God says to Abram (later renamed Abraham), “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The central fulfillment of God’s promised blessing was children, grandchildren, and countless generations to follow. Just as God did with Abram, He invites us to consider how we will be a blessing.
It’s a central idea in many faith traditions that all with which we have been blessed—families, resources, skills, talent, energy, vision, commitment—is not intended for our self-gratification or hoarding, but is meant to be used to bless others. As our nation reels from the financial downturn driven by the greed of the few heedless of the needs of the many, the tendency for many people is to hold tight to what they have, circle the wagons, and take care of their “own,” with the narrowest definition of who one’s “own” includes. But we are called to do just the opposite. Last year saw the largest increase in child poverty in five decades—a larger increase than for any other age group. More than 15.5 million children, more than one in five, are now poor. We desperately need to answer that call.
As part of the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths celebrations, faith communities are taking action. A top priority is connecting needy children with health coverage. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid provide low-cost or free health coverage for uninsured children and comprehensive benefits. This includes doctor visits, vision, dental and mental health services, prescriptions, shots and immunizations, x-rays, hospitalization, specialty care, basic prenatal care and more. One in every ten children—8.1 million—in the United States is uninsured and two thirds of these children are eligible for CHIP and Medicaid but not enrolled because of state barriers to coverage. Some faith communities will use the Children’s Sabbath weekend and the weeks that follow for outreach and enrollment events to link children to CHIP, Medicaid, or local health clinics.
Congregations are taking actions in dozens of other ways too. Some are sponsoring letter-writing tables so participants can urge their Members of Congress to extend the extra help poor children and families are currently receiving until they get back on their feet again. They will encourage lawmakers to prioritize the needs of millions of children and their families that fell backwards during the recession, rather than helping the wealthiest two percent of Americans who have seen their fortunes grow enormously. Others are fighting childhood hunger by coordinating food drives, especially ones serving families in “food deserts”—urban and rural areas with few quality grocery stores that sell a good variety of food, including fresh produce and other healthy food options, at reasonable prices. Some places of worship are serving as host sites for Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® Programs to provide summer and after-school enrichment for children in their communities. Others are participating in service projects together, like painting a classroom at a Head Start center or low income school or sprucing up a common room at a homeless shelter or juvenile detention center. The possible ways to help are as varied as the needs. Congregations choose what’s right for them—they just need the will and the commitment.
Each religious tradition recognizes the sacred charge to defend children and those in poverty. Now is the time to put our faith into action. Every day, poverty deprives millions of children of the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential. We don’t have a moment to wait or a child to waste. On the Children’s Sabbath, faith communities clarify their own vision for a better tomorrow and work to make that hopeful future a reality today.