Engaging the Community
Experiencing the Community outside the Congregation
By getting to know our neighbors, especially those who are poor and
marginalized, we may more fully begin to discern what God is calling us to do
in our communities. Too often we do not know our neighbors, especially those
who are different from us in terms of race, socio-economic class, or ethnicity.
We don’t know their stories or the barriers they face every day. In our
ignorance, we may too readily come to believe stereotypes and myths.
One option for getting to know our neighbors is to visit and
intentionally interact with people in a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or
clothes closet, a location where members of the congregation may already be
serving. But beware: when we engage with people in locations and situations
where charity is given and received, a definite hierarchy is present. The
recipients are receiving the charity of others. This is disempowering.
Recipients of charity, in the moment, are often intimidated and ready to accept
and internalize others’ views of them. They may carry with them the legacy of
years, even a lifetime, of oppression.
Another way to engage with unfamiliar neighbors is to arrange a visit
through an organization specifically working to bring greater justice to
marginalized people. (See “Opportunities for Exploring Your Community” below.)
Through such visits, we can hear from people who have found their voice and can
describe the oppression they encountered. They can also tell us how they are
acting to liberate themselves, what they are doing to end the oppression of
others, and how we can help. These stories of transformation can transform the
Opportunities for Exploring Your Community
Every community has organizations and groups of people working for
justice and they aren’t hard to find:
- What groups have you read about in the paper?
- Who is actively engaged in the struggles of workers
or in strengthening civil rights for people of color, for Muslims, for people
of all sexual orientations?
- Who is working to preserve needed safety net
services and save programs from budget cuts?
- Who is speaking out at meetings of the city council,
visiting legislators in the state capital, or sending letters to the editor of
the paper in solidarity with people on the margins?
Many if not all of these organizations would be very happy to respond to
your request for more information about what they are doing and the needs they
are addressing in your community. Make a list of the ones you read about in the
paper or have heard about in some other way and then reach out to one or more
of these groups.
Explore ways the congregation/other setting or smaller groups within the
congregation can work with those organizations. As you do, you will encounter
and get to know new people on the front lines of justice struggles, opening up
perspectives you may not have considered before or deepening connections the
congregation/other setting has already established.
The sections below list national organizations that may have local affiliates
that are active in your community. After you visit with one of these groups or hear about its work, come
together to discuss what you have learned:
- What do you think of their work and their message?
- Why do they do this work? Are they making a difference?
- Is their work needed in the community? Why?
- Would you or others in the congregation want to
explore joining them in their work? Why or why not?
- What would Jesus think of their work?
Two national networks bring local labor organizations and religious
congregations together into religious-labor collaborations to support the
struggles of workers, especially low-wage workers:
Worker Justice “calls upon our religious values in order to
educate, organize, and mobilize the religious community on issues and campaigns
that will improve wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers,
especially low-wage workers.” Nationwide, some 40 local coalitions of labor and
religious organizations are “building a strong movement for worker and economic
justice.” Find local
- Jobs with Justice engages workers and religious and community allies in “campaigns to win
justice in workplaces and in communities where working families live.” Jobs
with Justice coalitions of labor, religious, student and community
organizations share a vision of “lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part
of a larger campaign for economic and social justice.” Jobs with Justice has local coalitions in more than
40 cities in 25 states across the country.
Congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) is community organizing
rooted in faith bodies that come together in answer to God’s call to love our
neighbors, stand with the marginalized, and work with God for a more just
society. Local CBCO coalitions of
congregations work together to address the needs and injustices present in
their communities. Pastors and church members report that participation in CBCO
can be a transforming experience for congregations, individuals, and
Find more information on the
UCC website and in
Doing Justice: Congregations and Community
Organizing by Dennis A. Jacobsen (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001).
Union members reside in every state and almost every community in the
nation. Union members are teachers,
firefighters and first responders, police officers, airline pilots, flight
attendants, nurses and other health care workers, construction workers, utility
and telecommunications workers, manufacturing and production workers, writers,
actors, musicians, athletes, truck and bus drivers, municipal, county, state and
federal workers, and so much more.
Union members teach and care for our children and for the disabled,
infirm and elderly in our midst. They
sort and deliver our mail, build our nation’s infrastructure, and keep our
water clean and our electricity flowing.
They are on the front lines of tapping and processing the energy
resources that keep the nation going, and rank and file union members are often
the first on the scene in natural disasters or other individual or community
Unions exist as a result of the voluntary and democratic coming together
of workers in a workplace or industry who seek to secure a voice on the job;
bargain collectively over wages, benefits, and working conditions; and ensure a
safe, healthy, and fair workplace in which workers are treated with dignity and
their contributions toward workplace productivity and quality are valued and
respected. Unions care about both union
members and non-union workers and retirees.
Unions within the local community, along with other community partners,
are often at the forefront of local economic justice struggles such as efforts
to secure family-sustaining wages and safe and decent working conditions for
all workers. Unions are especially concerned about supporting and providing protections
and a collective voice for the most vulnerable or low-wage workers in the
By connecting with the labor movement in our region or state or with one
or more local unions in our community, we can learn more about current worker
struggles and explore how local workers and our faith communities can become
stronger together in our shared quest for economic justice.
Members of the congregation or other setting may know of unions or other
labor groups you can contact. Or use these websites to find local labor groups: