On the 49th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we found ourselves in the heart of Memphis this week, where the seeds of the American Civil Rights Movement grew. Attending the annual conference of the Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS), my colleague Michelle Chandler and I hoped to garner insights from this faith-based organization in preparation for our upcoming annual meeting. We gained so much more.
At AJAS, attendees gathered together to share, support and inspire each other. They gathered to remind themselves and each other why they do what they do: to do God’s work.
They did so, in part, by listening to the words of the Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, the Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. He reminded us all that despite differences in race, religion or culture, we have much in common. We share a vision to serve vulnerable people in need of housing, care and services with dignity.
On the outskirts of Memphis, we witnessed this shared mission in action as we visited UMA member community Wesley Stage Park. We listened to the deep commitment of Wesley Living CEO Jim Nasso and Property Manager Casandra Cooper, whose organization provides affordable housing to senior adults as an outreach of The United Methodist Church. There, we toured a bright, comfortable 540-square foot apartment which was now home to a 62-year-old resident. Just two weeks earlier, he had been homeless.
Here in Memphis, in the midst of Lent and just days before Passover, in this uniquely, diverse setting, I found myself reflecting on the prayer of St. Francis, “master grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.”
And with that mindset and deep curiosity, we learned more about the Jewish tradition of Mitzvah to perform good deeds. We understood better the powerful words “I am a Man” worn on the sign of African-American sanitation workers of the 1960’s seeking fair wages. We saw clearer the struggles and resilience of their families. And we learned just how much we shared as a community.
We also came away with a richer commitment to the UMA annual meeting theme: Connecting Communities.
We look forward to seeing you next month to gather together to share, support and inspire each other and to remind each other why all of us do what do: to do God’s work.
Have a blessed Lent and Happy Easter,
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