An Interview with Dr. Lynn Parsons, Director of the North Texas Conference's ZIP Code Connection
Story from the October 2013 issue of the North Texas Conference Connection
By SHERON C. PATTERSON
North Texas Connection Editor
The ZIP Code Connection seeks to eradicate poverty in two ZIP codes, 75215 (South Dallas) and 75426 (Red River County in northeast Texas) by 2025.
Dr. Lynn Parsons was hired as director for the program in September and serves on the staff of the Center for Missional Outreach. She is now based in the NTC Ministry Center in Plano.
Dr. Parsons sat down with The Connection to talk about launching the ZIP Code Connection.
How do we get started?
We get started by never forgetting that the people of the two ZIP codes are our neighbors. There are United Methodist churches in both ZIP codes. We cannot treat the people of poverty or their neighborhoods as “projects” disconnected from us as human beings, as “problems to be solved,” as “opportunities for ministry” or as “clients.”
We must treat people with human dignity and respect and apply the Golden Rule, putting ourselves in the place of a person in need and considering carefully how we would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
What is the “listening phase” all about?
Right now, I am focusing almost solely on the first of the strategies: listening to the neighbors. The word neighbors is intentional, borrowed from Larry James, the CEO of CitySquare, which is a huge network of services for the South Dallas community.
In his book The Wealth of the Poor, Larry makes the point over and over that poor people possess great wealth.
Their wealth includes real social capital, survival skills, capacity to engage and to serve, as well as great wisdom about life, hope and apparent despair.
What folks really need is simple. “Poor” people need opportunities, fairness and hope — all the things I take for granted and to which I feel very entitled.
Larry also emphasizes that we cannot presume to know what people need until we form relationships with them that allow us to hear from them what they need — to be their neighbors in every sense of that word. So I am on a mission to listen to the neighbors.
After I am able to hear what they are saying about what they need, my mission becomes trying to mobilize the great resources of the 150,000 members of the North Texas Conference toward these two ZIP codes — resources that include service, advocacy for social justice and funds.
The ZIP codes are so different. What have been your initial observations?
There are multiple churches, organizations and agencies providing direct services in 75215, located in South Dallas.
Our best strategies in this ZIP code may be, in the short run, pitching in to help support and expand those that are aligned with our mission.
Our longer-term strategies must address the educational, community and economic options available to the neighbors.
While resources in 75426, a rural community in northeast Texas in Red River County, are both scarcer and located farther apart, there is a strong commitment and caring concern expressed by multiple community factions, along with a desire to serve and transform the entire community, regardless of wealth.
Since there are so many churches of many denominations in this community and since a large proportion of community members are active members, our best strategy may be to work through a collaboration of churches to identify and address immediate needs, while the whole community continues the work they have begun on economic and educational development.
Local churches and individuals are urged to get involved. You may contact Dr. Parsons at 214-931-6254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.