Taking a bus trip with Sister Simone Campbell is anything but boring. Her conversations will range from peace-building and immigration reform, to economic justice, healthcare and the election. She’s taken her message across the country and is often seen in the nation’s capital as a leading voice for public policy issues.
For the past 10 years, Campbell has served as executive director of NETWORK, an organization founded by Catholic sisters, to promote justice, peace and social transformation. She is most recently known as the author of “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change and Community,” published last year.
The book grew out of a 2012 bus trip with Campbell and a group of Roman Catholic nuns who toured parts of the country to generate support against Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget. The group argued that the budget cut programs vital to the poor and struggling middle class families. Prayer meetings and rallies became regional and national media events and the rest is history.
Campbell has taken three so-called “Nuns on the Bus” trips across the country, speaking on key justice issues. The response has been overwhelming and she and her traveling companions receive a warm welcome wherever they go.
Campbell will be one of the featured workshop leaders at this year’s Big Tent in Knoxville, Tenn., July 30-August 1, speaking on poverty and hunger. She recently spoke with PNS about these issues and why Presbyterians need to attend.
What inspired you to get involved with social justice issues?
I’ve been interested in this since I was a child. I grew up during the civil rights demonstrations. I used to watch it on TV and felt that if young people could stand up for what they believed, I should stand up too.
The thing that always touched me was Jesus and justice both begin with the letter J. When Jesus focused on charity, working with the poor, he would tell his disciples it was their responsibility to feed them. It’s our responsibility too.
What will you be telling those attending Big Tent this year?
One of the things we often lose sight of is poverty affects all of us. It’s not just about those without. It’s about our efforts to mend the income and wealth gap in our country so that we can better serve one another and God. Our quality of life is worse because of a wealth disparity. When there is disparity, there is a lower quality of life. I will talk about why we as people of faith need to bring our care for the whole community.
What do you hope attendees will take away from your presentation?
I hope everyone commits themselves to doing one thing. The challenge we face is that we believe we have to do it all. We are one body and all we have to do is our one part in that body. I hope everyone leaves choosing to do one thing well.
What can people in the pews do to get involved with hunger/poverty issues?
NETWORK faces this challenge every day. Political issues have become a theater or spectator’s sport. We choose our team and root for our side, but we stay on the couch. Democracy is about hard work. Even Thomas Jefferson said democracy needs the “values of faith” brought into it.
I think that we of faith need to open our hearts to the needs of the nation right now and step up to deal with our problems. It’s hard work and it’s not something that will be lightly chosen. We all have to do a little more. Give us 10 minutes a week and we can get you engaged in our issues.
Why should congregations be concerned or motivated to do more?
Following Jesus means we have to have broken hearts. Jesus calls us to touch the pain of the world so that our hearts are broken. We need to acknowledge the pain of the world and have an active experience in hope.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing advocates like yourself in educating the public on poverty and hunger issues?
The first thing we encounter is fear, fear of the future, of each other and a fear that I have to take care of myself if no one is around. The second thing that fear reveals and generates is a hunger for community and involvement. That’s a huge challenge for our congregations because people feel distanced from institutionalized religion, yet have a hunger to be connected.
I know many low-income communities that realize they cannot do it alone. There is a nurturing of relationships in these communities because they have to. We have to take risk to build community and there’s room for you to get involved if your heart is broken.
Sister Simone Campbell’s workshop will be held on Friday, July 31, 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Those interested in participating at Big Tent this summer can register at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/big-tent/.
Please join the PC(USA) for a live Twitter chat event with Sr. Simone Campbell on June 29 at 4:00pm ET using the hashtag #AskSrSimone.