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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE An initiative that arose from a few discussions between the City of Springfield, Greene County and the United Way of the Ozarks has grown to more than 122 participants, as of July 6. The Have Faith Initiative is a group of faith leaders and nonprofit agencies interested in working to help local government officials navigate the choppy waters of addressing COVID-19. In addition, the group has recently expanded its focus to deliberate on ways to bring the community together to better understand and act in support of the current movement to combat racism.
“It is the Springfield way to come together to find solutions to challenging problems and to celebrate positive steps with encouragement and spiritual healing,” said Reverend Mark Struckhoff, one of the co-chairs of the Have Faith Initiative. Struckhoff and co-chair Reverend Bob Roberts of Second Baptist Church have been convening the group weekly via Zoom.
Each meeting begins with an update from Mayor Ken McClure, Greene County Associate Commissioner Harold Bengsch, Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard and Springfield Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement Cora Scott. Road to Recovery Orders are discussed and participants pose questions via chat and on video. Input from pastors has been used to help craft the orders and also opens up a two-way dialogue where each group feels both heard and valued.
“We find the input and support from the faith community to be incredibly helpful as we make difficult decisions and communicate about those decisions to the community,” said Mayor Ken McClure. “I always look forward to the discussions and I feel that the time together is meaningful and uplifting.”
McClure acknowledges the hardship that the stay-at-home order, and even subsequent less-restrictive orders that place occupancy caps on churches, poses to both churches and those who go there to worship. Continuing to repress the virus, however, is the top priority. Mayor McClure said the actions of area churches have undoubtedly saved lives.
Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard reminds the group about the insidious nature of the invisible disease that finds its fuel easiest in situations where people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time. Sick people pass it along without even knowing they are sick, and outbreaks can occur quickly.
“Some of the saddest situations across the country have occurred due to exposures at church choirs, funerals, weddings or pot-luck dinners,” Goddard said. “The virus does not discriminate. I hate it. I’m committed to beating this thing.”
The Initiative, which is now also supported by Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Community Partnership of the Ozarks, focuses on four areas, each with a corresponding committee to coordinate efforts
• Conducting “supplies and food drives” to collect and allocate items that nonprofits need to best serve the most vulnerable in our community• Coordinating support for our community’s spiritual and mental health• Determining how our community can best come together in faith during this time of physical distancing requirements• Serving as a communication conduit, both from faith leaders to civic leaders and from civic leaders to faith leaders
Recent discussions at the Have Faith Initiative have focused on ways member churches can deliver meals to the homeless who are sheltered in area hotels to keep them safe from contracting or spreading the virus.
Steering Committee members Tom Ryan and Rennie Diekemper head up the food and supply drives committee, at times serving more than 100 people a night. They still need help from more churches and individuals. A “Stuff the Truck” food drive is being planned for September.
Linda Merkling, steering committee member and the current Council of Churches of the Ozarks Board Chair, is heading up several projects aimed at providing uplifting messages and shows of support to essential personnel. Plans include recruiting pastors and others to record positive video messages and a campaign to thank local healthcare heroes and other front-line, essential workers.
Reverend Jennifer Simmons, lead pastor at National Avenue Christian Church, is working with Burrell Behavioral Health and others to create mental health care kits for churches in an effort to provide support to people struggling with stress, anxiety and depression.
Rev. Roberts said the Have Faith Initiative will likely continue long after the virus is under control. He is happy that so many faith traditions are represented (more than 20) and that the meetings have turned into a forum for meaningful conversations and allow church leaders to become more aware of what is happening around them.
“We need to forge spiritual connections and have meaningful conversations with people all around us. In a radically changing culture, deep relationships and grace-filled interactions are essential,” he said. In a recent meeting, he shared, “Every Christian needs to become an anthropologist, studying the many cultures that exist right where we live, worship, work and play. This will mean listening to people we agree with and those we disagree with. It means being kind and gracious with people who don’t affirm our faith, who practice other faiths….Now is the time to quiet our minds and our mouths and listen to the stories our neighbors are telling us.”
A communications committee is working on creating public awareness about the opportunities created through the Have Faith Initiative, including assisting the other three committee and planning content for virtual events. Communications chair Cora Scott said the group would like to receive feedback about what types of events would be helpful to the community.
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For media information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement or the City of Springfield, at 417-380-3352 or [email protected]
The Have Faith Initiative is open to anyone who would like to learn more about ways faith and nonprofit organizations can work together and with local government to improve life for all Springfieldians. To learn more and receive an invitation to join the group, visit uwozarks.org/have-faith.
Those wishing to create positive video messages to share with your congregation, organization or the general public, view the videos uploaded to the shared content folder and follow the instructions provided by Jason Hynson, executive director of Victory Mission. Please watch for Have Faith social media content and share as you feel comfortable.