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Last spring about 400 people from 26 Greensboro churches came together out of concern for young people. They met at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church to discuss social programs they could start themselves. Although the Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of the speakers, the real focus was on youth and how to help them.After the meeting, the Rev. Mazie Butler Ferguson told what spurred them on: ``God's people are the only ones who can do anything about this.' She reflected the deep social commitment of the Pulpit Forum, a group of about 35 Greensboro ministers.

Last week the Pulpit Forum issued a statement on what it calls the ``emerging crisis in the government of Guilford County.' The statement charged that county government had cut services and ``denied basic benefits to the poor and powerless' in the name of ``tax reduction and efficiency.'

The forum's immediate concerns were 1) the commissioners' cancellation of a grant of $4,000 for a study of indigent health care, and 2) the removal of six members from the county Board of Health.

The group has invited Chairman Steve Arnold of the county commissioners to talk to its members next Tuesday. Arnold said he hopes ``his concern about their wanting to make publicity displays are unfounded.' But the Pulpit Forum doesn't have a history of grandstanding.

Commissioner Katie Dorsett, one of the two-member Democratic minority, has been suspected of urging the pastors to join the county fray. But forum leaders deny it, explaining that they went to her only for information.

They also say the dispute isn't partisan, or a matter of governmental inefficiency, or of race. They believe the issue is ``an attempt by an ideologically united majority of commissioners to completely impose their narrow views on all the people of the county.'

Like others in the county, forum members have been troubled by the commissioners' outlook and behavior. After watching a string of dismissals in county agencies, they felt there was no spirit of reconciliation in the proceedings. They also felt they had a duty not only to people's spiritual condition, but also to their physical welfare.

Last week the ministers vowed publicly to ``challenge the current direction of the majority on the commission' and support appropriate legal action. They spoke of bringing people to a ``posture of indignation.'

This week they are circulating a petition to show support for three Guilford County health programs they suspect are due for budget cuts - the Home Health program, Response Team (for investigating possible abuse or neglect of the elderly) and the Community Alternative Program (alternatives to nursing homes). The petition's scope is modest but by no means easy to attain.

Yet forum members are optimistic. ``Faith, properly understood, is a great source of strength. It gives us the capacity to go on, and not to be consumed in a sea of pessimism,' says the Rev. Nelson Johnson, assistant pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church.

``We are not fighting individuals; we are fighting bad government,' says the Rev. Benjamin Foust, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church and chairman of the forum's Committee on Crisis in County Government. Foust says their concern is the concern of all people of faith; he hopes members of other churches will join their ``conspiracy of good will.'

Pulpit Forum members are quiet about their plans. But their emergence places county government on a new, higher level of accountability. There is perhaps no more powerful voice than the Pulpit Forum to represent poorly served citizens.

Beyond this, it cuts through those grating undertones of self-righteousness we've been hearing in county government. The forum is countering with a bold statement of faith and is calling on government to start caring.

That could hardly come too soon.

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