The 'Two Feet' of Ministry
Listen: Interview with Ched Myers
Keeping our balance
By Msgr. Marvin A. Mottet
In the early 1970s, I met with pastors and parish staff to talk about social justice work. One pastor said, “I need a simple, one-page explanation that I can put into the hands of the ordinary parishioner to understand this.” We came up with the simple paradigm of the “two feet of social ministry”—it takes two feet to walk and to keep our balance: one “justice,” the other “charity.” One foot is focused on institutional change, the other on direct service.
Without both feet, we lose balance. When I served on the National Committee of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which had the responsibility of reading and prioritizing hundreds of funding applications, I saw an application from Bread for the World. Bread wasn’t passing out food baskets or running soup kitchens, but working for institutional change—addressing public policies that could relieve hunger and poverty. I said, “This is what we are all about,” and have been a supporter and promoter of Bread ever since.
If we use only the first foot (direct service), we could make matters worse by fostering dependency. If we use only the second foot (institutional change), we might become too far removed from the realities of the situation. A true Christian lifestyle requires of us that we live in solidarity with those in need and come to their assistance in emergencies. We cannot isolate ourselves.
Direct service can provide us with the data needed for institutional changes. It is sometimes classified as “charity.” Institutional change is “working for justice.” There can be no love without justice. If we really love, we will work to change structures, systems, laws, and policies that are harmful to people.
A few years ago, an organization I was part of was asked to take over a food site that served about 50,000 meals per year, but had gone bankrupt. As board president, I asked the board to set aside at least 1 percent of its income to send to Bread for the World to show that we are not just doing emergency aid, but we are dedicated to addressing the public policies that cause, or could alleviate, hunger and poverty.
Now, 1 percent is not a lot of money, but it does keep the principle of institutional change before our minds—that we need to root out the causes of poverty and hunger. If every meal site or soup kitchen in the nation did this, it would not only provide considerable support for Bread, but it would also remind us of the need to find the causes of hunger, both domestically and internationally. It would remind us that food baskets and soup kitchens are not enough. We need to work on public policy.
Msgr. Marvin A. Mottet, of the Diocese of Davenport, IA, is former national director of the National Campaign for Human Development.