Engaging the Community
Reflecting within in the Congregation
To begin the journey to discern whether to become an Economic Justice
Church, the planning
group may want to host two sessions of deep sharing for the congregation:
“Reflecting on Our Community” and “Sharing Our Stories.” Alternatively, you
might want to begin with other activities and have these conversations later in
Each week, begin with introductions and prayer. Then provide an overview
of the hour-long session. The leader may either give out copies of the
questions or have them written on a flipchart for all to see.
|Week 1: Reflecting on Our Community
The purpose of this session is to share information and insights about
the community around the church or other setting, to get to know each other at
a deeper level, and to plant seeds about the need for, and ways to engage in,
economic justice. These questions don’t have right or wrong answers but are
intended to get you thinking.
What economic issues most affect our community? (For
example, the lack of affordable housing, hunger, unemployment, low wage work,
lack of affordable child care, health care, all the above)
2. What is the root cause of these issues? (For
example, changing economic structures, plant closings or openings, population
shifts, long-term changes in the economy, etc.)
3. Why are some workers paid very little while others
make quite a lot?
4. Can people be working and still be poor? Why?
5. What is the difference between a minimum wage and a
living wage? (Answer: The minimum wage is the wage level, set
by Congress or a state legislature, that is the lowest amount an employer can
pay. In 2011, the federal minimum wage, applicable in all states that did not
require a higher minimum, is $7.25 an hour, or $290 for a 40-hour week. A living
wage is the wage necessary to support an adequate but meager standard
of living, usually estimated to be $10 or more, depending on location. For more
information, see Let Justice Roll
6. Does every worker deserve to be paid at least a
7. In our community, who are the people on the margins,
the ones who Jesus called “the least of these”? Are they members of our UCC
8. Do people feel comfortable seeking help from food
pantries or other charities? How would you feel if all the workers in your
household lost their jobs and you had to seek food at a soup kitchen or food
9. How do you feel when you see people in the grocery
story check-out line using food stamps? Today, food stamps are often provided
through debit cards. Does this make things easier? Why? How would you feel using food stamps?
10. Are you comfortable working in a soup kitchen or
clothes closet? Why or why not?
11. Are you comfortable working to bring more
fundamental change in the economic system so people would not be poor?
12. Do you see justice issues as “political,” outside
the range of topics and actions that the church should get involved with? Or
are they tightly woven into our call to be Christians?
Churches are legally allowed to support or oppose particular issues or
legislation through activities like
educating and informing people, participating in demonstrations and rallies,
lobbying members of Congress, calling talk shows or writing letters to the
editor, getting people at Coffee Hour to sign petitions. Churches are not
legally allowed to support candidates, urging people to vote for or
against a particular person.
For more information, see “Guidelines for
Congregations and Clergy on Political Action”
|Week 2: Sharing Our Stories
We can learn about the world and support our neighbors just by hearing
their stories. One way to initiate a deeper immersion in one’s community is to
hear the stories of people whom we think we know. In the United States today, over half of
the population lives in poverty at some point in their lives, in a family or as
an individual with an income below the federal poverty line. Some of our
friends and neighbors may live in poverty or may have done so at an earlier
time. Others may be without health insurance or may have lacked it in the past.
Some may use food stamps or live in public housing, either now or previously.
By sharing these stories we can educate each other about what it means to live
on the margins. We can also share in the pain that arises from living in these
Sensitive issues may surface during this conversation. It is important
for your pastor to be aware this conversation is taking place. She or he may
want to be present to provide pastoral support if it is needed.
with centering. Say a prayer asking for soft hearts and listening
ears. Express the desire to hear each other’s stories with love and gentleness.
Before beginning, discuss the need for confidentiality to assure speakers that
the conversation will be held in confidence.
in small groups. The goal of this session is to understand how
pervasive the conditions of poverty and injustice really are, including among
folks in your congregation. Joblessness, poverty, shortage of food, inability
to pay bills, foreclosure, and even homelessness are not far away from most of
us. Any or all of these tragic situations could result from a long (or even
short) spell of unemployment, a serious illness, or divorce. In many cases,
people who are poor are just like us. In some cases, they are us.
In a world filled with God’s abundance freely given, in a fabulously rich
country, there is no need for poverty. But structural injustices create poverty
and keep people impoverished. What does it feel like to be poor, to be
dependent on charity, to worry about providing food for one’s children and
for Small-group Sharing
1. How have you been affected by economic upheaval of
the past few years?
2. How have other members of your immediate and
extended family or friends been affected?
3. Will your children and grandchildren have the
opportunities you have had? How do you feel about that?
4. Will your children and grandchildren enjoy the same
5. Do you have economic security now? How do you feel
6. How do the experiences of the past couple of years
illustrate the power of unjust structures?
7. Have you been unemployed, not knowing where or when
you would find your next job? How did that make you feel?
Have you or your family or friends ever been “food
insecure” with limited or uncertain sources of food? What does that feel like?
9. Were you ever homeless or forced to move in with
family or friends to avoid homelessness? What was/is that like? How did/do you
10. Have you ever had the utilities turned off because you couldn’t pay the
bills? How did you cope? How did it feel?
the sharing, some may feel the need for healing, for putting
balm on old or fresh wounds, or for offering support to each other. We may
discover that interventions are needed to relieve the suffering that has been
with prayers. Pray for those who are suffering and for those who
have suffered, pray for everyone who has shared their pain, pray for a world
where every person has all they need for the whole and holy life God intends
for each of us, pray for God’s reign to come on earth, as it is in heaven.