Getting into the meaning of affirming relationship-based social justice

lovethyneighborasthyselfGreetings, Friends!

Well, we’re back on schedule!  Thank you to all who have faithfully followed the blog on our Facebook page even without the Friday Morning Grind. I know that there’s still much to say about refugee resettlement and the Dakota Access Pipeline, let’s get back to some talk on resolutions since that is our primary focus. Please continue to check our Facebook page for postings from Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Stand with Standing Rock efforts.

If you’ll recall, we began presenting the resolutions that Covenant 5 asked congregations to consider in their resolution passed at our Diocesan Convention last October. This week my committee has researched some possible approaches to meet Resolution A096: Affirm Relationship-Based Social Justice (from the 78th General Convention). Here’s the full text of the resolution:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention affirm the many justice ministries of service and advocacy throughout The Episcopal Church, ministries that are grounded in the Baptismal Covenant and that were initiated by General Conventions, dioceses, congregations, and other Episcopal organizations; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention affirm and encourage the use of various methods to discern, develop, and sustain justice ministries, such as Asset-Based Community Development, needs surveys, and community organizing; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention affirm and encourage the formation of partnerships between congregations and well-established community organizing groups in their local contexts in order to be trained in the practice of community organizing and sustained by those partnerships that they may do justice ministry more effectively and efficiently; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges of our time and culture is the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the sin of economic injustice that pervades our society; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention challenge all Episcopalians to hear in a bold way the call of both Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi to befriend and be with the poor, and that we come to know that the future vitality of The Episcopal Church is grounded in our mutually affirming relationships with our brothers and sisters who are poor; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention encourage all Episcopal congregations to establish relationship-based, social-justice ministries through which relationships are developed between those who serve and those who are served, resulting in shared and transformational experiences and in a greater commitment to work for justice on all sides of the socio-economic divide; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention encourage churches and dioceses to discover and partner with local experts such as Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Direct Action and Research Training (DART), Gamaliel Foundation, Asset Based Community Development, People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), and other local formulations of interfaith or cross cultural organizations that use relationships to structure their transformative work; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention ask Episcopal groups that are participating in relationship-based social justice to share their experiences with the broader Church through social media, the internet, and official communication channels, so that other groups can learn from their successes, challenges, and insights.

This is a long and possibly intimidating resolution on first reading. Here is some resolution reading advice:

First, take it apart.  Initially, let each “resolve” stand on its own.  For example, it we read the first resolve, there’s nothing a congregation can act upon – although expressing gratitude to those local and diocesan agencies that work to bring justice might be one way of fulfilling this resolve.  So, read to find the resolves that suggest action items.

2dayBecome informed.  Before trying to start something new, find out what’s happening in your community.  Learn about the issues from your local news sources.  What are the experts saying?  Maybe the first thing to suggest to your congregation or group of friends might be a book study so everyone has the same background information and is well-informed about the issue.  For example, I was listening to Michigan Radio one day and heard Jack Lessenberry recommend a book that he thinks everyone should read:  $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.  I ordered it right away and then learned that Luke Shaefer is the husband of our own Rev. Susie Shaefer.  This hooked me even more and is providing an important foundation for understanding the day-to-day situation of the very poor in our communities.  I decided that this would be the book that my book club will be reading and discussing for February.  Who knows what might come from our discussion?

Next, know your resources.  Consider your congregation.  Are there any people that might already have a passion for one of these resolves?  Can you partner with local agencies or other congregations in your community to accomplish the work?  That kind of cooperation really build relationship-based advocacy as you work together for a common goal.

Okay then, let’s look at this long resolution.  The first few resolves are all “affirm” and “acknowledge” so let’s go to the fifth resolve which challenges us to do something.  Joyce Munro, a member of Resolution Review, prepared this for you:

Resolved, That this Convention challenge all Episcopalians to hear in a bold way the call of both Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi to befriend and be with the poor, and that we come to know that the future vitality of The Episcopal Church is grounded in our mutually affirming relationships with our brothers and sisters who are poor.

Economic segregation in this country is very thorough, making it difficult for us recognize and interact with the poor, including the working poor, among us. Congregations and individuals have many avenues for donating funds to assist the poor; this allows us to salve our consciences but keeps us at a distance from our brothers and sisters who are poor. In order to “befriend and be with the poor” and “enter into mutually affirming relationships” with them as Jesus calls us to do, we need to take steps that will break down this separation.change-the-world

Congregations can study Rev. Stephanie Spellers’ book Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other, and the Spirit of Transformation to develop practices to welcome and include others in their worship communities. A helpful study guide to the book is available at https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/radical-welcome–embracing-god-the-other/bookstudyguide_participantsguide.pdf. This approach can work to help members of a congregation reach out across the barriers of attitudes and fear to welcome and form mutually affirming relationships from which all can benefit.

Individuals can participate in programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters to use the power of personal relationships to mentor children and adolescents (http://www.bbbsdetroit.org/). You can become a literacy tutor, working in a one-on-one relationship with an adult. Contact your local public library or organizations like Reading Works in Detroit (http://readingworksdetroit.org) to find volunteer opportunities near you. Through such experiences, volunteers make strong relationships with those they tutor, hear their stories, and discover further ways that we can all be of help.

welcome-matMichigan Radio WUOM has been running a series of reports called “State of Opportunity” which is “a multi-year reporting and community engagement project focused on how poverty affects children in Michigan on the special problems of the poor.” Go to the website   (http://michiganradio.org/programs/state-opportunity) to learn of the special struggles poor families face in doing everyday tasks that many of us have the resources to complete easily. Look for special opportunities where a congregation or individuals can offer assistance. For example, learn that getting treatment for asthma is difficult for children in poverty or that fees for participation in public school sports teams keeps poor students, especially girls, from playing sports at school (http://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/youth-sports-low-income-kids-are-often-left-out-game. A congregation or group of individuals from a congregation can contact local public schools, find ways to pay these fees for students who otherwise would not be able to participate, and then show up for the students’ games perhaps even volunteering to transport the students’ parents to the games, thus building genuine relationships with these families.

There are many ways we can break the distance that keep us separate from the poor. Finding ways to establish genuine relationships by befriending and being with the poor benefits all.


Another member of Resolution Review, Paul Castelli, researched some of the local experts mentioned in the seventh resolve:

Resolved, That this Convention encourage churches and dioceses to discover and partner with local experts such as Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Direct Action and Research Training (DART), Gamaliel Foundation, Asset Based Community Development, People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), and other local formulations of interfaith or cross cultural organizations that use relationships to structure their transformative work.

Some high school friends have been involved with MOSES, working on advocacy and organizing for mass transit in metro-Detroit.  The organization’s foci are economic dignity, healthy and sustainable communities, education for all, transparency and accountability, and transportation equity.

MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) is a metro-Detroit Gamaliel affiliate.

http://mosesmi.org/

http://www.gamaliel.org/

DRIVE is the Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity based out of the Harriet Tubman Center in Detroit.  They focus on community organizing through congregations and focus on Asset Based Community Development.  They provide training for individuals and organizations to utilize their methods of community organization through one-on-ones and listening sessions, etc. http://www.tubmanorganizing.org/d.r.i.v.e..html).

On mass transit, there is also the Motor City Freedom Riders (https://motorcityfreedomriders.org/).  A former classmate told me that they do engage in one-on-ones in a similar format to that which we saw in the DRIVE presentation at Diocesan Convention.

Finally, Michigan United (http://www.miunited.org/) appears to be the largest community organizing initiative in the state. Unlike MOSES and DRIVE, which are regional, Michigan United is a state-wide organization. They are essentially an umbrella group.  Below is a list of their member organizations:

  • Latin Americans for Social & Economic Development
    (LA SED)-Detroit
  • ACCESS- Dearborn
  • AFSCME Council 25 – Detroit
  • American Citizens for Justice – Detroit
  • APIA-Vote Michigan
  • Boston Edison Neighborhood Association-Detroit
  • Centro Vida
  • Common Cause
  • Communications Workers 4004-Detroit
  • Communications Workers of America 4001-Detroit
  • Detroit Action Commonwealth-Detroit
  • El Nacimiento-Detroit
  • Evangelica Misionera de Kalamazoo-Kalamazoo
  • Evangelical Lutheran Synod of SE MI-Detroit
  • First United Methodist of Kalamazoo-Kalamazoo
  • Greater Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church-Detroit
  • Holy Angels – Sturgis
  • Immaculate Conception Church-Hartford
  • Jesus Es El Camino-Hartford
  • La Rosita Market
  • La Vina Church-Sturgis
  • Marygrove Neighborhood Association-Detroit
  • Metro AME Zion-Detroit
  • Michigan Nurses Association
  • Michigan Unitarian Universalist Federation
  • Mid-Michigan immigration coalition
  • Portage Chapel Hill UMC – Kalamazoo
  • Pride Area Community Council
  • San Felipe de Jesus-Fennville
  • Second Grace Methodist Church-Detroit
  • SEIU-Detroit
  • SEIU Local 1
  • Senegalese Community Association
  • South Asian American Voices for Justice (SAAVI)-Troy
  • Catherine of Siena-Kalamazoo
  • Joseph Catholic Church-Kalamazoo
  • Thomas Aquinas Church voting Detroit
  • Supermercado La Tuna
  • UAW International -Detroit
  • UAW Local 2093 CAP Council-Three Rivers
  • UNITE – HERE Local 24-Detroit
  • United Auto Workers Local 600-Dearborn
  • United Food and Commercial Workers 876
  • United Methodist SE MI Conference Social Justice Office

Thanks to Joyce and Paul, I think you have a great beginning for adopting this resolution as a congregational initiative.  And, you’ve also got some helpful tips for finding just the right resolution for your congregation.

This work is about so much more than merely meeting the requirements of a resolution.  It’s all about establishing relationships with our neighbors so that we can work together for justice and dignity.

Let us pray…

O God, holy and just, you long for a nation that follows the way of righteousness and peace: We pray for our land and people that we may follow you faithfully and live according to your mission on this earth to bring justice and dignity for all people.  Deliver us from greed of gain, from all prejudice and ill-will, and from all causes of injustice and inequity.  Inspire us to a love of all our neighbors and true concern for one another’s welfare that we work together with one heart and will to secure quality of opportunity for all.  Amen.

~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee

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One thought on “Getting into the meaning of affirming relationship-based social justice

  1. Judith, out here in the Western end of the diocese, All Saints-East Lansing has been involved with Action of Greater Lansing, a Gamaliel affiliate and sister organization to MOSES, for the past 10 years.

    We also strive for justice and peace in the Western end of the diocese. Please remember us when you are looking at what is being done in the Diocese of Michigan.

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