Compassion Caravan stops at Parkersburg church

The Rev. Janice Hill, pastor of First Christian Church in Parkersburg, presents the Rev. Jeff Allen, executive director of West Virginia Council of Churches, with two loaves of unleavened bread at the end of Tuesday’s “Compassion Calls Us” meeting. Hill said the loaves were a symbol of sustainable bread and will be presented at Thursday’s meeting in Buckhannon. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

The Rev. Janice Hill, pastor of First Christian Church in Parkersburg, presents the Rev. Jeff Allen, executive director of West Virginia Council of Churches, with two loaves of unleavened bread at the end of Tuesday’s “Compassion Calls Us” meeting. Hill said the loaves were a symbol of sustainable bread and will be presented at Thursday’s meeting in Buckhannon. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

PARKERSBURG — The meeting may not have been intentioned to become church, but those attending the “Compassion Calls Us” meeting got a dose of it anyway.

Boiled down to the core of the message presented by “Compassion Calls Us” Tuesday at First Christian Church Disciples of Christ on Washington Avenue was Matthew 25:35-40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The Compassion Caravan has grown from the efforts of faith communities to respond to legislation proposed to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and to turn Medicaid into a block grant. Tuesday the Compassion Caravan’s first stop of its campaign was at First Christian.

“We all have compassion for the unfortunate, or at least we should,” said the Rev. Janice Hill, pastor of First Christian. “Aren’t we called to be compassionate? Aren’t we called to be Christ-like to the least of these?” she asked. “Jesus never asked the people following him if they had worked long enough to be fed. Jesus never asked if they had worked hard enough to be healed. ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

The Rev. Jeff Allen, a United Methodist minister and executive director of West Virginia Council of Churches, speaks during the opening segment of Tuesday’s “Compassion Calls Us” event at First Christian Church in Parkersburg. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

The Rev. Jeff Allen, a United Methodist minister and executive director of West Virginia Council of Churches, speaks during the opening segment of Tuesday’s “Compassion Calls Us” event at First Christian Church in Parkersburg. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

The Rev. Jeff Allen, a United Methodist minister and executive director of West Virginia Council of Churches, spoke of “public policy and politics are talked about in a different way. They don’t talk very much about people who are impacted by those decisions. We want to bring back values, try to refocus people talking about issues and how it affects the people in West Virginia. Matthew 25 is where we find the message we’re trying to spread. That’s compassion for the most vulnerable. We want people to see people as people, not some sort of economic unit.”

But one member of the caravan does deal with economics. That is West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Campaign Coordinator Seth DiStefano, the grandson of United Methodist minister Sam Butcher.

“There are 130,000 children in West Virginia, below the age of 18, who depend on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” he said. “Between 6,000-7,000 of those children live in Wood County. The average SNAP recipient receives an average of $3.87 to eat on. That’s $1.29 per meal.

“Cutting SNAP is just plain wrong,” DiStefano said about the House resolution bill. “It’s fundamentally wrong in what we West Virginians are about.”

According to wvpolicy.org, “between 2013 and 2015, an average of 81,000 West Virginia workers lived in households that participated in SNAP within the last year, according to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The site produces a graphic stating West Virginia had 747,000 workers for the time period with the 81,000 participating in SNAP. That’s 11 percent of the work force.

Renate Pore, a health care advocate, said during the meeting she considered the Affordable Care Act “a great leap forward but it’s not perfect. There’s still about 100,000 people who are not able to afford a policy. I’m still not sure why.”

Pore said there were two ways people were getting coverage through the Affordable Care Act: private policy or through Medicaid. “The private policy availability will continue through next year,” she said. “People can still register at healthcare.gov.”

She added, “So far the repeal effort to take down the Affordable Care Act has gone down in flames. The effort to slash Medicaid would result in 175,000 in West Virginia would lose coverage in a couple of years. We’re going to have to fight for Medicaid, SNAP, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). CHIP will expire at the end of the year if it’s not renewed. I’m hopeful it will.”

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