The United Church of Christ’s advocacy office is encouraging local churches to be creative and COVID-conscious as they apply for “Our Faith, Our Vote” grants in support of work to inform voters on key issues and motivate them to vote.
Five grants of $2,500 each are available “for use in local and regional Our Faith, Our Vote organizing,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC office in Washington, D.C. Churches can apply online, here. Applications are due Aug. 14.
Eligible projects include nonpartisan activities in any of three areas: voter registration, issue education, and voter empowerment and mobilization.
This year, Sorensen said, the COVID-19 pandemic may hamper some past voter activities, such as in-person candidate forums in church halls or voter-registration tables (like the one pictured at right in 2016) at crowded community events. But there is plenty churches can still do. She suggested these as just few possible ideas for grant-funded projects:
- Hosting and publicizing online, community-wide issue forums and candidate exchanges, where people can share stories, learn more about key issues and ask questions of the candidates
- Renting laptops to provide online voter registration opportunities at direct-service ministry sites
- Printing palm-sized voter bill-of-rights cards with state-specific information. These might include what form of ID is required, rights of those with disabilities to seek assistance, and Election Protection hotline numbers, such as 866-OUR-VOTE
- Buying ads in local news outlets to highlight issues your community and congregation care about; creating get-out-the-vote public service announcements for local media
- Billboard campaigns that convey state-specific voter information, such as registration deadlines, where to get registration information, and where returning citizens can vote
- Renting vehicles and providing personal protective equipment for safe rides to the polls on election day – especially for marginalized communities – following Centers for Disease Control protocols for disinfecting surfaces and maintaining distance
- Supporting poll workers and providing for safe polling sites, per advice from county election boards
One congregation that funded its work with an Our Faith, Our Vote grant last presidential election cycle was Amistad Chapel UCC, Cleveland. It used its downtown sanctuary for a worship service and community meeting focused on the importance of voting and for a public forum on issues of education, health care and voters’ rights. Members also led a local candidates’ forum at a nearby community center and went out to register voters (pictured) at a food pantry, a community college campus and a shelter for homeless men.
“From my perspective, the Our Faith, Our Vote work was a wonderful way to give something back to the downtown Cleveland community,” said Michael Readinger, who heads the UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries and belongs to Amistad Chapel UCC. “As people of faith, we are called to use that right to vote as an instrument of supporting those who share our call to ‘serve the least of these.’”
Another Amistad Chapel member, Sandy Lindahl, said the congregation’s work in 2016 proved memorable for members. “Several of Amistad’s current book study participants have said they want to work on voter registration again,” she said.
To help all UCC members and churches get involved – whether grant recipients or not – Justice and Local Church Ministries recently beefed up its online Our Faith, Our Vote resources. A new Action Center makes it easy to check registration status, register to vote and finding polling places. Another new page spells out 10 key issues from a UCC viewpoint, including suggested questions for candidates.
“The campaign encourages UCC members and congregations to look critically and from a faith perspective at the issues at stake in the elections, and invites people of faith to engage in responsible dialogue and make informed decisions about the elections,” Sorensen said. “Churches are encouraged to establish forums for considering key issues and reflecting on the importance of nonpartisan faith participation in local, state and national election-year activities.”