Engaging the Community

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 the journey. 

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.

Economic Issues

1. 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 living wage?

Poverty

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 churches?

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 pantry?

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?

Working for Change

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 circumstances.

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.

Begin 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.

Share 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 oneself?

Questions 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 economic security?

5. Do you have economic security now? How do you feel about this?

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?

8. 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 feel?

10.  Have you ever had the utilities turned off because you couldn’t pay the bills? How did you cope? How did it feel?

 

After 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 shared.

Close 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.

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Contact Info

Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-736-3709
raselle@ucc.org