Cherelle M. Dessus
“Black, White, Spanish. Doesn’t matter who you are, you’ll feel like you’re part of a family,” a church member said. Lee Heights is located in an urban area and the church aims to serve their community. Many times, they walk through the neighborhood to talk and pray with people.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) helps the congregation connect these local concerns with federal policies. EAD is a national gathering held annually in Washington, D.C. The conference is organized by Christian organizations working in Washington, including the Mennonite Central Committee’s U.S. Washington Office. This year’s conference focused on the challenges and solutions to racism, materialism and militarism. Lee Heights Community Church of Cleveland, Ohio, sent 20 members and friends to this year’s conference.
Once called Gladstone Mennonite Church, Lee Heights focuses on service, peace and justice. This multi-ethnic church of 250 members was founded by Vern and Helen Miller.
Rochele Beachy, the daughter of the founders of the church, has attended EAD for several years with her family. In 2016 she began to spread the word and persuaded a group of 12 to attend the conference. So this year 20 members from the congregation drove seven hours in a church van and another vehicle from Cleveland to D.C. to participate in the EAD events and meet with their elected officials.
The members who attended loved the conference and decided to make their attendance an annual event. Hardaye Ramjit, an elder at the church, described her experience at EAD as life-changing. “After I first attended EAD, I came back home and got involved in everything. I became politically aware.”
Ramjit says that she avoided politics for most of her life. After attending EAD, she realized that a fight for justice is biblical. “The Bible is about justice for people. God is a God of justice. If you truly love people, you need to understand how the law will affect your congregation members. Praying is good, but we must [also] take action.”
Members said that attending these types of events is necessary for the church. They meet real people with real stories. The group loved the speakers. “They really focused in on justice. They were fired up and weren’t afraid. They didn’t sugarcoat anything. We really need that in a time like this,” said Ramjit.
Many of Lee Heights’ current members were drawn to this Mennonite congregation because of their commitment to justice and advocacy. They are committed to attending the conference every year with growing numbers, while forming new initiatives to advocate together.