As the Nov. 3 general election approaches, eight United Church of Christ congregations are using funding from “Our Faith, Our Vote” grants to register and encourage voters and provide them with nonpartisan information on important issues.
The grants of no more than $2,500 each are given by UCC Justice and Local Church Ministries. They encourage “a three-tiered approach of voter registration, issue education and mobilizing for voter participation,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of JLCM’s office in Washington, D.C.
Recipients of the 2020 grants are:
- First Church, UCC, Middletown, Conn.
- Covenant Baptist UCC, Washington, D.C.
- Heritage UCC, Baltimore
- Emmaus Homes, St. Charles, Mo.
- Caroline Valley Community Church, Brooktondale, N.Y.
- St. Paul’s Community Church, UCC, Cleveland
- Love in Action UCC, Hatboro, Pa.
- St. Peter UCC, Houston
‘Need to encourage everyone to participate’
In Baltimore, motorists and pedestrians during the morning rush hour are greeted by signs and banners held by enthusiastic volunteers during get-out-the-vote rallies outside Heritage UCC.
Weekly, and sometimes twice a week, members of Heritage and of four other nearby churches recruited by its pastor, the Rev. Scott Adams, hold signs along busy Liberty Heights Ave. It’s a COVID-safe way to remind residents to register and turn out, said Heritage member Dorothy L. King, coordinator of the effort. They plan to continue through the end of October.
She said Heritage used its $2,000 grant to cover design and printing costs of banners and signs for lawn displays and the rallies. They bear messages such as, “Get out and vote, because your life depends on it,” “Black voters matter” and “Voting is your right and your civic duty.” The effort attracted local TV news coverage on National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 22.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive response,” King said. “We need to encourage everyone to participate in this voting season.”
‘Key issues that will affect this community’
Caroline Valley Community Church, a blended UCC and United Methodist congregation in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, hopes its reputation as a community gathering place will attract people to educational forums on election issues – especially issues of local concern.
Since arriving there as pastor Aug. 1, the Rev. Kayti Dean has already heard about some of them. “People have spoken to me about mental health, housing availability and sustainability, food security, employment availability and sustainability, and accessibility to health care,” Dean said.
Especially in a pandemic, a nonpartisan forum is needed where people can learn about matters that will be decided by the politicians they elect, she said. “Because we have so many people isolated because of COVID, or self-isolating because they are essential workers, I feel that there are a lot fewer conversations around those key issues that will affect this community – and there’s a lot more conversation about hot-button issues that you see in the media.”
Dean is recruiting speakers on local issues, drawing from the public and nonprofit sectors and from the academic community in nearby Ithaca. The forums – possibly as many as four in October – will be carried over the webinar platform Zoom. Presented live before a limited, socially distanced audience in the church’s Fellowship Hall, they will also be recorded for later viewing via Facebook.
Dean said the church will use its $2,000 grant to invest in technology for the webcasts, including Zoom, which the church has not yet used. The funds will also be used for advertising and for reimbursing speakers as needed for mileage and presentation materials.
“Elections matter – whether local, state or national," Sorensen said. "2020 is a pivotal election year. The challenges before our communities, our nation and our world are immense and urgent. Our vote is our voice – it is our way to participate in the common good and to help shape the way we approach the policy challenges before us. Faith voices are an essential and unique voice in the electoral process.”