Amy Reumann’s public policy ministry includes concerns about hunger, housing, and civil rights
While growing up on the LTSP campus the first 18 years of her life, the Rev. Amy Reumann explained that it never occurred to her to seek ordination.
Her father, the late Rev. Dr. John H.P. Reumann, had achieved notoriety as the Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor of New Testament and Greek. “My father loved the Word and was so skilled at interpreting scripture. He had amazing attention to detail. My mother, Martha, was a peace activist who would go off to meetings and come back with background. She was a great model. She helped me to understand and think more about what the seminary and the church were doing.
“Even though I wasn’t thinking about ordination when I went off to college, the seminary campus served as a great incubator for me. I can’t say enough about what that meant.” She explained she learned a lot from students during formative years. And she learned a great deal from family sabbatical experiences in places like Jerusalem, India, Germany, and England. “Each place had different realities and faith communities. I always came back changed.”
Today, Reumann, following somewhat in the footsteps of both her parents, is director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Pennsylvania (LAMPa), the oldest statewide public policy office connected with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and many other partners, including seven synods in the Commonwealth, social ministry organizations, camps, colleges, and seminaries. The organization is 35 years old.
The core work of LAMPa involves public policy, especially as it relates to hunger and ancillary concerns for housing and blight, as well as job-related concerns.
Following racially charged events in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and Charleston, Reumann said her office has gotten many calls from congregations looking for anti-racism resources. “We have a web page – Lutheranadvocacypa.org/racial-justice – that points people to those resources,” Reumann said. And LAMPa gets involved in supporting related legislation. “We try to be proactive rather than reactive,” she explained. One form of legislation LAMPa supports is a racial profiling bill that has begun to surface with sponsorship from the American Civil Liberties Union and the YWCA. Also gaining visibility are racial impact legislative ideas, which examine how new bills would impact African Americans and Hispanics, and minorities in general, were they to pass.
“There is growing interest in our congregations as well in mass incarceration concerns,” Reumann said. “Especially in the areas of youth sentencing and life sentences involving youth. We try to work diligently with synods and congregations that participate in prison ministry initiatives.”
Next year, Reumann explained, a “White Privilege Conference” is set in Philadelphia to explore ways that whites in positions of influence may become more accountable to communities of color. Seminary professor John Hoffmeyer is connected to that initiative, Reumann said. (see Prof. Hoffmeyer’s reflection in this issue)
While at Muhlenberg College as an undergraduate before attending seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), she became immersed in issues like anti-apartheid concerns, Namibian independence, faith-based organizing, and work with food pantries. She spent time with Lutheran Volunteer Corps and with the office of World Community at the United Nations, focusing on women’s human rights. She describes her discernment journey as a long one. During the journey, she came to know Christians in Namibia and East Germany “who would stand up as part of church public leadership.”
She became persuaded during college that she wanted to become a parish pastor, and after seminary served congregations in New Jersey, then Wisconsin, eventually becoming director for Urban Ministry on the staff of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.
Deciding more than six years ago she wanted to move back closer to home, she heard about an opening to direct LAMPa and applied. She got the job.
“There was a big learning curve for me getting to know the ropes and figuring out how to relate to and interact with the legislature, its staff, and other organizations,” she noted. “Hunger is at the core of our policy work,” she said, “food and nutrition.” She works hard to connect congregations and their food pantry ministries to the public policy network. She is impressed both by the number of congregations who have some kind of food ministry to the hungry and homeless, and the awareness parishioners have of the extent of the problem. “It takes a couple earning minimum wages 2.3 jobs between them to afford a residence in Pennsylvania,” she said. The Commonwealth has a 13 percent poverty rate among adults and a 19 percent poverty rate among children, she explained.
One particular success, Reumann explained, has been to endorse legislation that has placed a cap of 24 percent on predatory lending practices, such as represented in payday lenders which charge high interest rates providing bridge loans to people awaiting paychecks. “We had Lutherans, consumer groups, veterans groups taking over the halls prior to the vote,” Reumann said. “Of course, while we were successful, the issue keeps coming up again every year.” There is a large concern for the lack of affordable housing, Reumann explained. “Some fees collected as the result of Marcellus Shale drilling in the Commonwealth have been directed toward easing blight,” Reumann said.
Reumann is among the master gardeners for a hunger garden next to the Capitol’s Ryan Office Building. The garden has bipartisan support from the Legislative Hunger Caucus. Grown on the plot are tomatoes, green peppers, beans, kale, herbs, and chard as well as other vegetables. Some of the produce goes to a nearby soup kitchen. The Pennsylvania Food Bank processes some of the vegetables into a delicious salsa that can be bought for $25 a jar. “It’s expensive, but it is really good, and it benefits people who are hungry,” Reumann said. The garden serves as a very visible reminder of hunger realities, she said. And it makes for better relationships among hunger advocates, the wider community, and legislators and staff.
Amy Reumann said Lutherans have inherited a terrific legacy from Reformer Martin Luther regarding advocacy. “He used to write thousands of letters to the princes of the day lobbying for change,” she said. Today, letter writing is a main initiative for volunteers with LAMPa who desire to support legislation.
A number of seminarians have enjoyed field work opportunities with LAMPa, and Reumann hopes more will come along. “They can learn about the work of the church in the world, learn about communications and public witness,” she said.
She urges church leaders to invite their legislators to an event, such as a community garden planting or harvesting or a food bank. “It gives legislators a story to tell,” she explained. “And you don’t have to have a problem to visit your legislator. Just be willing to share what is going on in your community or what the needs are.”
Reumann said it is easy to be cynical about legislators these days. “But my experience tells me that many public servants are in their work to provide for the common good. They deserve your prayers.
“The whole world belongs to God,” she said. “God has called us all to care for the society around us. Our political lives and the work of the church are part of the same realm. I often talk to legislators about our Lutheran theology. We are not here to baptize government or to extricate ourselves from it. God has created government to restrain evil and to promote the common good.”