Those who abide by the conventional wisdom that religion and politics are not fit for dinnertime discussion might want to avoid the luncheon series launching downtown this week. First Thursday, a collaboration between the Social Justice Subcommittee of the Toledo chapter of U.S. Catholic Priests and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, will incorporate a little of both.
“I think all faith traditions see a moral underpinning to most current issues,” said Tom McDonald, an organizer of the series, which will ask local public figures to speak on topics of national importance over a soup-and-salad lunch at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. “How do we address those?”
That’s the crux of what organizers hope to do through the monthly series, which follows in the model of a similar series facilitated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo between 2001 and 2012. The decision to revive the series reflects the current political climate, Mr. McDonald said, pointing to topics slated for discussion that are drawn from recurring news headlines.
Thursday: Mike Beazley, city of Oregon administrator, on “Threats to Democracy: The Perniciousness of Money in Politics”
Nov. 2: Dr. Johnathon Ross on “An Improved Medicare for All: Liberal Benefits with Conservative Spending”
Jan. 4: Eugenio Mollo, Jr., Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), on “The Treading Immigration Topic”
Feb. 1: Chris Vickers, WTOL meteorologist, on “Local Efforts to Keep the Paris Accord”
March 1: Dr. Samina Z. Hasan, United Muslim Association of Toledo, on “Being Muslim in America Today”
April 5: Tom Luettke, Lucas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, on “Issues Facing Returning Citizens: Re-Entry Challenges to Ex-Offenders”
Mike Beazley, administrator to the city of Oregon, will kick off the series noon on Thursday with a discussion of “The Perniciousness of Money in Politics.” Later topics in series include health care, immigration and climate change; each falls in line with an overarching theme: “Culture at the Crossroads: Critical Issues of Our Time.”
Luncheons will run noon to 1:15 p.m. and are open to all. Attendees are asked to RSVP to FirstThursdayToledo@gmail.com at least one week in advance and pay $15, cash or check, to cover their meal at the door. St. Paul’s is at 428 N. Erie St.
Series organizers hope the luncheons will promote awareness, dialogue, and, perhaps, action on nationally important issues with local effects. Each speaker counts a professional tie to his and her subject matter, reflecting an intention to encourage conversation and engagement on each topic rather than present a faith perspective.
The Rev. Pete Bowmer, who pastors St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, said the series complements the church-held idea that people are “stewards of creation” who are tasked with making the world a better place. To do that, he said, requires conversation.
“Usually there’s not one straightforward answer,” he said. “Any answer is complicated and difficult, and we shouldn’t shy away from it.”
St. Paul’s was not involved in the original speaker series, through Catholic Charities, and Pastor Bowmer said that, in early discussions about the First Thursday series, the church was suggested simply as a convenient downtown venue. As plans developed, though, he said it became clear that the objective of the series fit well with the congregation’s mission to engage with the downtown community.
“For a long time churches have always seen that they should just invite people to worship on Sunday,” Pastor Bowmer said. “That’s nice, but I really think churches are called to engage with the community, value-add and to make the community a better place.”
Pastor Bowmer said he’s particularly looking forward to an April 5 luncheon, in which Tom Luettke, re-entry coordinator for the Lucas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, will address challenges that ex-convicts face during re-entry to society. Because St. Paul’s sits just blocks from the courthouse and jail, Pastor Bower said he sees this as a particularly relevant topic.
The luncheons are expected to offer a relaxed atmosphere, in which attendees should feel comfortable asking questions or sharing their own thoughts or experiences, Mr. McDonald said. He said speakers will also be encouraged to offer “action steps” related to their topics — maybe local contacts or resources that an inspired attendee could use to get involved.
“That’s the idea: to encourage or motivate people to take action,” Mr. McDonald said. “But, short of that, raising awareness of those issues is always a first step.”
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