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Sometimes Church & State Can Work Together

Stan Simpson

April 15, 2009

A timely phone call was all it took for the Rev. Shelley D.B. Copeland to secure a one-on-one with America's new faith-based czar, Joshua DuBois. OK, maybe divine intervention was at play, too.

The White House receptionist who took Copeland's February call to Washington, D.C., advised her that it was highly unlikely Copeland would talk to DuBois personally. But when the call was transferred, DuBois himself picked up.

He is the 26-year-old wunderkind/executive director who wants to use the revamped White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to promote responsible fatherhood programs, reduce poverty and bring together interfaith coalitions.

Copeland, the executive director of the Conference of Churches in Hartford, said she left her 45-minute Good Friday meeting in D.C. impressed with DuBois' wisdom, vision and awareness of Hartford's interfaith efforts.

"He has a very sharp mind," Copeland said. "It's rare for me to meet people that are in the ministries that also understand the public policy side. We ministry types can be, you know, very heavenly minded. He understands how faith can actually make a difference in the country ... and is looking at things like how faith-based and community-based services can be involved in the economic recovery and fatherhood programs."

That visit the White House confirmed Friday's meeting is apparently paying off. DuBois, according to Copeland, is open to visiting Hartford in the fall. Congressman John Larson's office has agreed to invite him.

Copeland said DuBois also agreed to connect her with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which can help the Conference with development plans when it completes purchase of the Colin Bennett Building on Albany Avenue.

The Conference serves 1,000 faith-related organizations in Connecticut and works for social justice, interfaith advocacy and family reconciliation. It also runs the state's office of faith-based initiatives.

I've written before about how Hartford would be a great incubator a test study for President Obama's new urban policy office. The same holds true for Obama's faith-based office.

Hartford Seminary has been leading efforts to bring Christians, Muslims and Jews, among other denominations, together to promote understanding and fellowship. The region has an emerging Muslim community.

Hartford is one of the country's poorest cities, with a large number of dads who are MIA. Almost 70 percent of Hartford households with children are headed by single parents, mostly moms. Three-quarters of the state's inmate population are blacks and Latinos, most from urban centers.

As with urban policy, a coordinated effort among the faith-based folks could address a lot of social issues, including drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy, and re-entry programs for ex-offenders.

The Rev. Al Smith, the former pastor at St. James Baptist Church and author of the newly released self-published book "They Call Me Pastor ... Imperfect Vessel," said homelessness and fatherhood programs are two issues he'd like to see better coordinated.

"I grew up in a single-parent household myself and somehow, in going to church, the men took over in mentoring me," Smith said. "And that's something we need to do on a national level because we're losing a lot of our young people to the criminal justice system. We have to put our differences aside and realize that the battle is to try and do something to help the total community."

That's why Copeland made that phone call.

Church and state working together normally taboo can heal humans.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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