Last week, Jill Schumann, President & CEO of Lutheran Services in America, and 150 members of Lutheran Services in America attended the Community Leaders Briefing Series at the White House. The briefing series is a unique opportunity for grassroots leaders to start a two-way dialogue with the White House about issues that affect their communities.
Schumann reflects on her experience of connecting with Administration officials over a wide range of issues:
Colleagues from across the country gathered at the White House on October 28, 2011 for the White House Community Leaders Briefing for Lutheran Services in America (LSA). It was a delight to welcome:
Board and staff leaders from Lutheran health and human service organizations providing services in 44 states and DC, including two colleagues from Alaska. (LSA organizations operate in all 50 states and the Caribbean).
Leaders from regional and national offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) as well as area pastors, a group of young adults from the Metro DC Synod of the ELCA, and people serving in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
Leaders from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran World Relief, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and the Lutheran Theological Seminaries at Gettysburg and Philadelphia.
Colleagues of other faiths from the National Roundtable of Faith-Based Health and Human Service Organizations.
LSA chose to mobilize our members for this Community Leaders Briefing for several reasons. First, it was a great opportunity to both listen and share. Our diverse organizations have vast experience in seeing how the decisions of government play out in the lives of people in their communities, and we are always eager to find new ways to learn and to contribute our perspectives. The Community Leaders Briefing was a great opportunity to do just that.
It was also a chance to show to government the vast reach of Lutheran health and human service organizations. LSA organizations serve one in 50 Americans every year, employ nearly 200,000 people and mobilize an equal number of volunteers. That doesn’t include those people touched in their communities by many thousands of Lutheran congregations, not to mention the lives touched by colleagues of other faiths. In this democratic government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, the leaders we mobilized for this briefing connect with a huge number of people around the country, directly and indirectly.
We also embraced the opportunity of the Community Leaders Briefing because our connection with government is nothing new. For more than 100 years, governments have contracted with Lutheran organizations to provide supports to individuals, families and communities. By combining forces with government, we increase one another’s capacity to ensure the wellbeing of all people and enhance their opportunities to contribute to their communities.
Throughout the day, we heard from a wide range of Administration officials; we listened, asked questions and agreed to follow up with more information. As I talked with LSA leaders during the breaks I heard several themes:
How refreshing it was to talk with leaders in the Administration who took their roles as public servants seriously;
Interest that high-level leaders in the Administration seemed genuinely concerned about hearing perspectives beyond the beltway;
Renewed commitment from our members to being advocates with people who have so much to contribute but need public/ private partnerships to provide the bridge to success;
Hope refreshed by seeing so many young people from the LSA system and within the Administration who care about their country and about making a difference;
Sadness about the media culture of ten-second polarizing sound bites instead of thoughtful and nuanced analysis and debate of challenging and difficult choices facing all of us;
A sense that if more Americans could interact directly with elected and appointed officials like those with whom we met, optimism would increase and cynicism would decrease; and
The clear sense that this is a time when people across the country need to put aside differences to work together for the good of all people in this country.
I am grateful to the White House for the invitation; to the many people in the Administration who took time from their busy schedules to spend time with us; and to leaders from across the Lutheran system who gathered to learn, to share and to advocate. Indeed, it was a day well spent.
Lauren Kelly is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement