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Area Religious Groups Join Social Justice Efforts in New Organization


By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
02:21AM / Wednesday, January 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Area religious organizations are pooling their resources to help those in need.
Fourteen groups celebrated the new Berkshire Interfaith Organizing on Sunday. The new coalition brings the organizations together for charity and advocacy efforts.
“I just can’t say enough about how important this work is. To be doing this as one body, an interfaith body is so powerful and so profound,” said the Rev. Jennifer Gregg, one of the organizers and associate rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Pittsfield.
At St. Mark’s School, the groups celebrated with songs and speeches the creation of the agency. And they received pledges from local legislators to support the work. Particularly, the organization if focusing on food insecurity and transportation.
“It’s our drive to bring justice to our community that is bringing us together,” said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
Farley-Bouvier joined state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, Mayor Daniel Bianchi, and Dan Johnson of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s office, in pledging their support of the organization. The interfaith group is planning to advocate and support bills that better the community.
“We’re going to move immediately to action. We’ll be setting up meetings with Sen. Ben Downing and our local representatives,” Gregg said.
The organization has been in the making for two years. The parishes were working independently of each other in most cases; formally collaborating is hoped to give the faith community a greater voice on issues.
“This day is the culmination of two years of cultivating those relationships. A lot of work has gone into this day. We have developed leaders who are trained in grassroots organizing. We have listened to stories about what issues are close to our community’s hearts. We have identified that hunger and transportation are key issues,” the Rev. Mark Longhurst of First Congregational of Williamstown said.
According to Gregg, the organization will be overseen by a five-member executive team and every congregation will have two people sitting on an executive board.
“Parishes were each working on different issues and involved in social justice in different ways. What if we pooled that all that energy together and turn it into something where we can move as one body?” she said.
The founding institutions are Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, First Church of Christ on Park Square in Pittsfield, First Congregational of Dalton, First Congregational of Williamstown, Lee Congregational, Sisters of St. Joseph, South Congregational in Pittsfield, St. Mark’s Parish in Pittsfield, St. Mary of the Assumption in Cheshire, St. John’s Episcopal in Williamstown and St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Pittsfield.
“We made new friends and we connected with old friends. We have made a new relationship with public officials,” Longhurst said of Sunday’s event.