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 listeners.
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:
- Interfaith 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 coalitions
- 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
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 communities.
Find more information on the UCC website and in Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing by Dennis A. Jacobsen (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001).
The Labor Movement
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 emergencies.
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 community.
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:
- American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
- Local or regional Central Labor Council: Google “Central Labor Council” to find one in your area.
- Service Employees International Union