Monthly Archives: September 2015

Addressing Poverty

SEABROOKS SAYS:  Most in Gaston County know about our poverty situation.  Do you? Read about solutions proven to work at other places.  Are you willing to address our poverty issue in some way?                                                                                     Now that you know, what will you do? 

With its roots in Scott Miller’s national Circles movement, the Gaston County NetworX Initiative is coming to Gaston County. Having secured the Gaston County Family YMCA as its “lead agency,” Gaston NetworX is connecting with local stakeholders, including members of the faith community, helping agencies and local governmental officials, to launch a poverty initiative that has a proven, “evidence-based” track record in transforming communities across our state.

 What makes NetworX distinctive in addressing the problem of generational poverty, i.e., poverty so entrenched that it passes from one generation to the next? NetworX adds the essential dimension of “relationship capital” to the mix. A central NetworX insight is that the poor among us lack much more than food and financial resources to meet their daily needs. The NetworX model engages the whole community in providing the poor among us with the essential building blocks of Relationships, Resources and Meaning as a foundation for transforming their lives.

 Look for a community “kick-off” event in early 2016. Those interested in collaborating with Gaston NetworX are encouraged to reach out to our Coordinator, the Rev. Dwayne Burks,  at the Gaston County Family YMCA for more information.

 Sydnor Thompson, III

Pastor, Myers Memorial United Methodist Church

Some Thoughts on Faith Serving Society

SEABROOK SAYS:  Let your imagination run wild! Can you predict the results if 800 churches collaborated on one service to our community?  Read on please.       

For many of us in Christian traditions, some fascination develops about the ways our particular strains express the life of faith in the world. The conscious interaction of Reformed Protestants with the world in transformational ways is perhaps peculiar to its roots in medieval Europe. The rise of cottage industry (particularly textiles), the emerging middle class, the printing press (with its incumbent effect on literacy), and the decay of feudal society led toward the questioning of existing authority and empowerment of people for a new level of engagement with the formation of their world. This capacity is ingrained in the DNA of those traditions.

Ultimately, those traditions appealed to interests in educational opportunity, technological advances, increased social mobility, and other developments that had served to benefit those adherents. Subsequently, the intersection of faith and action was manifest in dramatic ways. Perhaps in part it was a response to the admonition of scripture (that they could now read and study). Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, “by their fruits you will know them,” and the Book of Acts describes the early Christians as people “who turned the world upside down.” Perhaps it was a reflection of the belief Walter Brueggemann accords to the Hebrew prophets that “justice and righteousness could be done in the world.” Or perhaps, it emerges from the broad understanding of “calling” or vocation as being how one lives out God’s plan or destiny for ones life in ways no longer confined simply to ecclesiastical practice. Faith, thus understood, was always more than simply a private affair between an individual and God, but more dramatically a public responsibility. Thus, a John Calvin does more than simply pastor a congregation in Geneva, but also works with the city council on legislation and within society to establish hospitals, etc.

Richard Niebuhr in his classic work, Christ and Culture, explored the complex relationships and understandings of different traditions between faith and society, Christ and culture. For instance, the Christ against culture tendencies expressed by someone like Tolstoy might be manifest radically in communities that withdraw dramatically from society (like the Amish). On the other end of the spectrum are traditions that represent the Christ of Culture represented by traditions like the high medieval scholasticism of Aquinas. Between the two poles are varying intermediate positions among which is the Christ transforming position descriptive of traditions, like the Calvinists. Endeavoring to transform society invited active intervention on behalf of people of faith. Thus, it comes as no surprise that 19 Calvinists were signers of our own Declaration of Independence. For God’s expectation of God’s people to be that service to their calling required attending society’s ills for the glory if God.

In the Presbyterian Church, our Book of Order affirms the principle that “God alone is Lord of the Conscience.” A God-given and God-expectant conscience demands the conviction of action. Further, its exercise is more than merely a private response to the life of faith, it is a public requirement. The faith confessed privately becomes the faith professed in its public expression. It is never enough to “talk the talk” without “walking the walk.” If the study of scripture reveals God’s concern for human well-being, then the life of faith demands action supporting that concern in the arenas of education, politics, health, the justice system, the business community, and all structures that influence the general welfare of others.

It is this relationship between God’s concern for the well-being of human society that informs people of faith in the forging of partnerships and relationships for the purpose of undertaking transformational tasks. Thus we see the work of foundations, civic organizations, faith communities, and other entities as indelibly linked to the rendering of God’s compassionate will in the world.

John Frye
Senior Minister
First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia

Is The Economic Tide Rising in Gaston County?

SEABROOK SAYS: Earl Mathers, our county manager, is a straight shooter.  He reports with lots of optimism! Gaston County is making progress.  Question for you: Are you and/or your organization taking positive actions to assist in assuring we continuously improve? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Despite the success of our industrial recruitment efforts, robust residential development, high occupancy rates in local hotels and new retail openings, there is a lingering perception that Gaston County’s economy is in the doldrums. Undoubtedly, we need to maintain and even amplify our efforts to improve Gaston County’s economy with a laser-like focus on quality. In general, however, our economy performed well in recent years as we worked to overcome the decline of the textile industry as a dominant employer. The progress we have achieved in Gaston County should be celebrated while we work hard to sustain the momentum we have achieved and avoid maligning the efforts that have gone before.

The real questions for Gaston County are associated with developing the economic strength to overcome the challenges of marginal employment for a large segment of the population and allowing for sufficient revenue to produce the kinds of improvements in education, infrastructure and quality of life that will sustain us in an increasingly uncertain future. This article provides a few insights concerning the current state of our economy and prospects for the future. Several thoughts concerning the capacity of Gaston County to handle ongoing and emerging demands will also be briefly discussed.

Gaston County’s economy is strong and growing as the following statistics indicate. Occupancy rates at our hotels in June averaged a near record 79% and most observers believe that much of this is driven by business travelers visiting the region. By the end of July, Gaston County’s Building Inspections Department had issued more single-family residential building permits than all of last year and may be on a record-breaking pace by year-end. There has been a surprising amount of multi-family construction as well with 350 new units built so far this year. Keep in mind that this is just in the jurisdictional area of Gaston County and many more units have been constructed in our cities. Industrial development continues at a brisk pace as well with a number of expansions as well as new construction which includes a one or two new spec buildings. The greatest need at this time is to develop new industrial property in the county since the Gaston Technology Park is virtually full. Unemployment in Gaston County has been steadily falling and some employers are experiencing difficulty in finding qualified staff to fill newly created positions.

Growth projections for North Carolina are favorable despite the uncertainty of legislative negotiations concerning economic development incentives. At this point, it does appear that compromises will be reached in the reauthorization of the Jobs Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program as well as several other incentive programs. However, recent uncertainty has made it especially difficult for economic developers in North Carolina to compete with their counterparts in the Southeast, one of the most competitive regions in the U.S. Observers have recently downgraded North Carolina in terms of its competitiveness in economic development despite high rating for quality of life and access to markets. UNC Charlotte reports indicate that 2015 is the sixth consecutive year of growth and that 2016 will be no different with an anticipated rate of growth of 2.4% in Gross State Product (GSP). Gaston County’s proximity to Charlotte, one of the most dynamic economic engines in the U.S., is highly beneficial and we need to continue our efforts to optimize this advantage.

The economic tide is in fact rising in Gaston County. Progress has been made in dealing with social problems as well. Our work is far from complete however, and we need to address a number of systemic problems that impede our progress to the next level. Investments in infrastructure, education at all levels and dealing with the fundamental causes and results of persistent poverty are among the challenges confronting Gaston County. Indeed, these problems are interrelated and all will be costly to resolve.

Promoting educational attainment and improving public and post-secondary educational facilities will produce long-lasting benefits to the Gaston County economy. As we seek to become a more affluent part of the region, we should respond to the demand for improved cultural and recreational amenities that promote active lifestyles. Moreover, there is a high degree of awareness that transportation infrastructure will impose limitations on growth, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the county. To the greatest extent possible, Gaston County leaders need to work to attract state assistance to address our transportation challenges. All of these issues will be addressed in the Comprehensive Land Use Planning process which is managed by the County Planning Department. This process involves high levels of public input and is currently underway.

Collaborative effort is called for because Gaston County’s resources are seriously constrained. In addition to the County, our municipalities, not-for-profits and the faith community should redouble efforts to fulfill our common goals. There are compelling reasons to believe that the national and global economies will experience even greater pressures in the future. Baby boomers are aging out, fertility rates among younger generations have fallen and this will leave fewer workers to sustain the costs of entitlement programs, a situation which has been worsening for at least two decades while policy makers fiddle. Gaston County will not be insulated from future economic upheaval and we need to do everything possible to build strength in times of relative prosperity.

Earl Mathers

Gaston County Manager