In 1975 and 1976 when the energies of the Church were focused on the ordination of women and revision of the Prayer Book, members of the Church and City Conference were worried by the Church’s apparent lack of attention to the urban situation. In years past the group had been active in developing a Joint Urban Program and at the 1973 General Convention had lobbied successfully for the establishment of a Joint Commission on Metropolitan Affairs but little was happening. Church and City leadership began working on an action agenda, which the membership heartily endorsed. It called for the establishment of urban training centers, a program of regional conferences and the rebuilding of an active urban-oriented network.
In the summer of 1976, the Rev. Franklin Turner, national Officer for Black Ministries, saw first hand the plight of urban parishes and the turmoil growing around them. Feeling that urban issues should be brought before the Church, he turned to Bishop Paul Moore of New York and Bishop John Walker of Washington, D.C. for help. Based on their conversations a meeting of “urban bishops” was convened at the Minneapolis General Convention. At that meeting, the bishops hoped to find a way to call the Church’s attention to urban issues, which seemed to be passing unnoticed. Discovering Venture in Mission to be a vehicle ready made for expressing their concerns, the bishops called upon VIM to allocate at least 50% of the money it raised to urban programs. The goal gained wide acceptance as the Venture in Mission effort took on national prominence. Determined to avoid the Church’s past errors in addressing urban issues, the bishops left Minneapolis committed to forming a coalition and educating themselves on the matters that faced them. Bishop Walker became the Coalition’s first chairman and Bishop John Burt of Ohio, its treasurer.
After several meetings, the original group of bishops sponsored a series of national public hearings and presented three institutes for Church leaders on social and economic concerns. The North-South Institutes, in cooperation with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, sponsored an event that attracted nearly 200 registrants and, along with other hearings across the country, offered opportunities for a variety of individuals and groups to present concerns to Church leaders and provide authentic information for further study and action. At the same time, the Church and City Conference, under the leadership of Chairman Michael Kendall of New York, was at work on its action agenda and Kendall presented the agenda during his testimony at a public hearing in Washington, D.C. Testifying at the same hearing was Gibson Winter who spoke in medical terms, of the cities being not so much in crisis as they were victims of wasting degenerative disease. He warned listeners not to approach urban mission as another short-term program, but as a long-term commitment. He said renewal of urban congregations and the solution to urban problems called for sophisticated involvement over a long period of time. In Chicago, Newark, Seattle, Birmingham and Colon (Panama) some 155 other participants offered testimony to panels of Church and community leaders regarding the role of the Church in the urban problems facing them. Their pleas called for the Church to be with them in their struggle rather than to give them money.
Information from the hearings was compiled by the Rev. Joseph Pelham and reported to a special meeting of the Urban Bishops Coalition in the spring of 1978, with the following basic issues identified:
The report also suggested the need for a national organization, for partners, and for a coalition to strengthen the role of the local urban parish. Pelham wrote: “Careful reflection on the testimony… indicates that to a degree that may not have previously been acknowledged, many of the resources needed to address the crisis already exist. What needs to occur, however, is a tough-minded, careful, honest analysis which can lead to a redeployment of (Church) programs, properties, personnel, energies, and resources to (do) the right task.” The bishops and invited participants accepted the report’s findings and voted to move ahead. Their recommendations for action are included in a publication called, To Hear and To Heed.
Final plans for a coalition came into being during the winter of 1978 and the spring of 1979 in discussions between the Urban Bishops Coalition and the Church and City Conference. The Episcopal Urban Caucus was founded and originally funded by both groups under the guidance of a joint steering committee. The organizing Assembly of the EUC commenced February 13-19, 1980 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Its charge was for bishops, clergy and laity to express the Church’s concern for the plight of the cities and their residents and for a commitment from concerned Episcopalians dedicated to leading a revitalization of the planners’ goal for the Caucus - “Vitalization of Episcopal churches in the cities through involvement, reflection, advocacy and action on issues of justice, equality and peace in our cities, nation and the world.”
Task forces of the EUC produced significant contributions to the understanding of important issues. The Caucus’, Countdown to Disaster, written by the Rev. William Rankin, reflected thinking on disarmament. To Build the City: Too Long a Dream, edited by Bill Yon, highlighted the work of the Parish Revitalization task force. The EUC adopted the Rule of Life based on the baptismal covenant, and produced a book of reflections on the spirituality of urban ministry in, For the Living of These Days, edited by the Rev. Emmett Jarrett.
During its early years the Episcopal Urban Caucus was based in Washington, D.C., and coordinated by the Rev. Canon Lloyd S. Casson who was its first president. The Hon. Byron Rushing of Boston was the second president when headquarters shifted to Boston. There the Rev. Canon Edward Rodman became national coordinator with Ann Marie Smith Marvel serving as Administrator/Office Manager/Bookkeeper until 2000. The Rt. Rev. Mellick Belshaw (retired) of New Jersey was the third national president followed by Diane Pollard of New York, the Rev. Emmett Jarrett of Stone Mountain, Georgia, the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris of the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rev. Clara Gillies of Buffalo, New York and R.P.M. Bowden of Atlanta, Georgia. Anne Scheibner and Emmett Jarrett followed Ed Rodman as national coordinators from 2000 to 2005. The current president is the Rt. Rev. John L. Rabb, Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, and the national coordinator is Nell B. Gibson of New York.
Over the years the EUC has supported worthy urban mission programs through a granting process and has continued to maintain the Assemblies as a forum for participation by bishops, clergy and lay ministers across the country and as a place for interaction between Church policy makers and urban ministry practioners. It has also sought to include global issues such as the rights of seafarers, immigrants and migrant workers. The Episcopal Urban Caucus is a founding member of The Consultation, a coalition of progressive Episcopal groups, which seeks to influence General Convention decisions. The EUC seeks to monitor policies and programs at the national level to effect urban ministry, particularly with the Washington Office, Jubilee Ministry and the Economic Justice Program, each of which was inspired in whole or part by the Caucus’ efforts.
In 2000, the Caucus met in New London, Connecticut to become better educated on issues of global justice. Participants took site visits to urban areas where the removal of retail shops and businesses from the inner city was causing the destruction of neighborhoods as developers made room for hotels and recreation centers. The visits allowed members to see first hand the need for urban reform and to join hands with women and children who are the main victims of oppression in the global economy. During the 2002 Los Angeles Assembly members marched in solidarity with hotel and restaurant union workers seeking better working conditions. EUC youth attending the 2003 Baltimore Assembly participated in a hands on experience at Jonah House, a Christian community founded by Philip and Elizabeth Berrigan, that is committed to working for justice and peace. Jonah House members undertake voluntary poverty, and work as caretakers at a local cemetery and as community service volunteers in exchange for housing. They are regular participants in actions of witness and civil disobedience. At the 2005 Assembly in Newark youth visited Ellis Island and grappled with the issues of immigration and forced labor that brought people to these shores.
Throughout its history the Episcopal Urban Caucus has sought to retain relationships with relevant social change movements, within the Church and in partnership with ecumenical and secular communities. The EUC continues to be a forum for grass root discussions of, and proactive involvement in urban ministry and global concerns. It holds its annual Assemblies in such diverse locations as Seattle, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Buffalo, Charlotte, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Newark and Jackson, Mississippi and remains on the cutting edge of national and international social issues, particularly in South Africa and Central America. It continues to be in solidarity with the poor everywhere.
Historical information gathered from accounts provided by the Ven. Michael S. Kendall and the Rev. Emmett Jarrett.