Community & Arts

Methodist social justice group brings prayers to the State House ahead of legislative session

There were congregants present from six Rhode Island Methodist Churches from across the state, including Newport, Lincoln and Cumberland, where Governor McKee lives. But six churches is just the beginning.

Published on January 3, 2023
By Steve Ahlquist

“Our focus is to bring God to the political process, so that we can offer prayers for compassion and for wisdom and for kindness as they are considering their legislation” said Coni Ferland, a co-chair for a relatively new group, Hearts for Social Justice, standing outside the Rhode Island State House with around two dozen people.

Hearts for Social Justice was formerly known as the Rhode Island United Methodist Association, but has reformed and refocused itself in recent weeks. The prayer walk, ahead of a new General Assembly session, is their first public effort.

Over a thirty minute interval the group offered “prayers of thanksgiving for the justice-centered work the Rhode Island legislature has done in the past, and prayers of petition for the upcoming legislative cycle in 2023.”

Hearts of Social Justice co-chairs Reverend Effie McAvoy and Coni Ferland

The prayer walk circumambulated the State House, pausing at various points to offer prayers for the Senate, House of Representatives and Governor Daniel McKee‘s Administration.

As for the specific social justice issues of concern to the group, “So far it’s been broad,” said Ferland. “Some of our members have done gun control, some have done healthcare and abortion rights, some have done homelessness and some have worked on environmental issues. We’re United Methodists Church based but not restricted to that church. We’re open to anyone interested in social justice.”

“We are very concerned about our unhoused brothers and sisters living on the streets,” said a member of the group.

“We have a $600 million dollar surplus right now and it would just be great if a portion of that could go towards alleviating homelessness,” said another member.

“Pretty much everything we do we try to trace back to our social principles,” said David Larson, referring to ideas found in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

“We’re hoping that our legislators come into this session with their hearts and minds open and centered around what we feel are the important things,” said a member of the organization.

There were congregants present from six Rhode Island Methodist Churches from across the state, including Newport, Lincoln and Cumberland, where Governor McKee lives. But six churches is just the beginning.

“Since we just started out, we’re expecting, this year, to really expand,” said a member of the group. “We’ve established ourselves organizationally so we’re ready to grow the organization across the state.


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Part of the expansion includes showing up to testify in General Assembly committees over the next six months on legislation of importance to the group.

“One of the other reasons we’re here today is to be thankful for the work the legislature has done in the past,” said David Larson. “We know that the legislature needs us to come and be with them to help them get some of this legislation to move forward.

“We’re here to be thankful, but also to realize that we’re part of the solution.”

The prayer walk was led by Reverend Effie McAvoy, another co-chair of Hearts of Social Justice. Video of the walk is below.

Reverend Duane Clinker, Sister Mary Pendergast and Kevin Simon

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