Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing by Dennis A. Jacobsen

The message in this book brings a wake-up call challenging the drowsy complacency in heart and soul. It is a call to rally with other church members to remember the value of our own lives well lived, to realize the ability to live in the power of the Spirit more freely and fully in care of neighbor as self. This book is about faith-based organizing and how church communities through grace can consciously choose to live into the professed Christian identity “called to be holy, catholic, apostolic, and confessional.” Jacobsen recognizes the tendency of the well to do churches to be underwhelmed by issues, partly because of the pervasiveness on the part of the church, following the model of society as a whole, of the complacent acceptance of the suffering of the oppressed. The author wrote about the significance of being reflective regarding the mutuality in meaningful relationships in the work of community organizing. Having the passion to be engaged in the work of ministry of love and justice, need be fully accompanied with reexamining how that passion can be used in ways that can make a difference in how to live in community.  It is about more than being do gooder’s offering charity and prayers for the oppressed.  It is about seeing the struggle for justice and realizing how our specific skills and expertise can serve as reinforcement in that work with others, expanding the power base in the community as a way of broadening the accessibility of the resources in community, and living into God’s salvation and call of justice for all.

My life’s call is about the development of ministry in areas that are not being cared for with recognized sacred space or with leaders who can help people recognize how the people are in prayer.

Where sacred sanctuary space can be recovered is one of the biggest concerns that we have encountered in our work with ministry development.  And the next concern that begs to be addressed is how one defines sanctuary.  We have watched churches drop one ministry after another that had served the local community in addressing basic living needs. Take care of the widows and the orphans, we have been admonished in the Hebrew Testament. Maybe we take “feed my sheep” from the New Testament too literally, but I don’t think so. If the worry for keeping the building repaired takes precedence over caring for neighbor, what is the use of the church building? And then again, where can people gather that is safe and accepting if there is no open neighborhood sanctuary?

The issues above are not so much erudite as they are practical concerns for those of us in ministry outside the established church walls. We walk the streets in our neighborhoods where there is not a safe place to name what is sacred in our lives, nor to claim a space to share the experience with others. If we have no one to reflect with, we are missing an opportunity to grow to wholeness and improve the well being of the community.

I talked with a person who had been looking for a way to gather with others to celebrate the loving child that we all are, in a safe place. This person had been looking for a way to organize other friends who shared the desire to practice their spirituality in community in a home church. Developing liturgy had been one of her concerns that we had discussed around the work of a home church gathering. Since then, she has found a group that had been organized around the premise of listening for God to speak and has decided that this group of Quakers is a safe sanctuary for her.

Finding a place and finding the words to express what is sacred in life is for me a daily task. Quite naturally, some days are more open to community gatherings than others.  On the first day of spring, I led a spirituality workshop I developed for that day at our first Rainbow Access Initiative LGBTQ Mind, Body, Spirit Expo. What an awesome day of celebration of renewed life. The spring equinox is a sacred time for many faith practices and it surely was a diverse and blessed group that gathered in the room where the workshop was held.  We honored the sacred in each of us that was named and claimed by us as congregants. We created sacred space for that hour, which was built upon trust and the willingness to respect the other while each of us lifted up what was uniquely our own expression.

Just this past Saturday we got together with a new acquaintance from the Expo to see how we could expand the common ground we shared spiritually, honoring what is sacred in our lives. We talked about our experiences looking for a way to put into spiritual practice with others that which has been put in our hearts to share. We had felt a strong connection in how we view what is of sacred worth in each of our lives, and how the earth is to be cherished as home for us and those who have gone before us. The person with whom we met spoke about his desire to be in ministry using the healing skills that he has nurtured. He is prepared to share his healing power with others in need, but he wonders where he will find a viable place from which to work.

Two weeks ago I learned about a form of ministry that has captivated my attention. Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina has a brochure explaining a bit about Faith Ministries that I imagine has possibilities beyond my wildest dreams.  And I do have some wild dreams.

Faith Ministries organizing is a barely tapped resource from which so many communities could benefit. In order for a community to flourish, all participants have to be enabled to access basic services. When people are left out of the loop of community engagement, their needs do not disappear but are met in less efficient and more expensive manner, often to the detriment of the individual and of the community as a whole.

Grocery stores in most communities are not located in neighborhoods for easy access for those without their own transportation, while convenience stores with high prices for items are more readily accessible.  Food pantries only act somewhat as a backup support for people unable to afford to meet their needs because of limited access to a local grocery store.  Someone without the money and/or stamina to take a bus to their medical care provider, may find that the only safe means of transportation to get needed medical care is by ambulance to the hospital emergency room.  And for some of our neighbors, getting someone able to care enough to accompany them for support and assistance to an appointment is not possible. The injustice of the lack of access for some individuals to basic services hurts the life of the community.

Faith Ministries organizing can be used to establish relationships in communities where the wellbeing of every neighbor is considered significant to the community as a whole. No one deserves to be left out.  This ministry can promote an environment where caring for other is realized as in one’s own best interest. To always be on the asking side of a relationship prohibits mutuality and respectful encounters and distorts the meaning of giving.  In a healthy relationship it is easy to recognize how giving and getting are mutually inclusive, and how caring for neighbor as self, is caring for self.

Why QFEST?

Why not?

QFEST is not a reaction; it’s not a statement; it’s not guided by political goals or a desire to be opportunistic. But it is socially significant. QFEST is a recognition of the entire community, from those of us who define ourselves by various letters (L,G,B,T or Q) to those who don’t because we can’t be defined so easily.

Film has an incredible power of telling a story that words alone cannot; of bringing together people of different backgrounds, creeds, beliefs and viewpoints, and giving them an opportunity to find similarities.

So, why QFEST? Why 10 films spanning 6 days? Why panel discussions following many of them? Because it’s time – time to build community engagement through vivid stories and, simply fun, lot’s of gay fun.

What Movies?


Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Invited to perform at a casino in remote Alice Springs, Australia, drag queens Mitzi and Felicia, and transsexual Bernadette hit the road in a broken-down lavender bus named Priscilla in this campy comedy classic. Along the way, the friends change into their most outrageous costumes and lip-sync disco tunes – as well as plenty of Abba – for the outback’s befuddled locals. There was even a pre-show performance by the Capital Pride Singers.

Bullied. Regional Premiere! -with showings of student films and a special panel discussion on bullying identification and prevention by the Pride Center of the Capital Region with representatives from New York State Union of Teachers.

Narrated by Jane Lynch, Bullied is a documentary film that chronicles one student’s ordeal at the hands of anti-gay bullies and offers an inspiring message of hope to those fighting harassment today.

Everyday, thousands of gay and lesbian students are verbally and physically harassed in schools. Jamie Nabozny was tormented by classmates for years. He eventually fought back – not with his fists, but in a courtroom.

The regional premiere of March On begins and ends with 2009 National Equality March. The real story centers around the five featured families.

Why did they take time off work, spend money and travel to Washington DC? What were their hopes and how did it change their lives?

March On offers the stories of two moms who made a road trip to states where there is marriage equality and started a website~ AreWeMarried.Com, a married lesbian couple from California who are one of the 18,000 allowed to marry before Prop 8, a New York gay couple who have been together 32 years and wrestled with religious bigotry, a man who served in the Navy for 5 years and was dismissed under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and a life long activist who has traveled this road for over 40 years.

You will see Lady Gaga, Lt. Dan Choi, Michelle Clunie, Cleve Jones, Staceyann Chin and Cynthia Nixon. You will see the queer youth who led the march, visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and sit on the grass in front of Congress but, more importantly, you will meet people who are courageous and inspiring, who came to Washington DC, October 11, 2009 to demonstrate that they believe in Equality.

Their stories are the reason we march. March On.

A Jihad for Love. A documentary on gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims across the Muslim and Western worlds.

Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.

Produced by Sandi DuBowski (Trembling Before G-d) and Sharma, A Jihad for Love was filmed in 12 countries and 9 languages and comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, it reclaims the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, whose true meaning is akin to ‘an inner struggle’ or ‘to strive in the path of God’ – allowing its remarkable subjects to move beyond the narrow concept of Jihad as holy war.

Howl. Composed from court records, interviews, and Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Animation inspired by Illuminated Poems by Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker.

James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg—poet, counter-culture adventurer, and chronicler of the Beat Generation. In his famously confessional, leave-nothing-out style, Ginsberg recounts the road trips, love affairs, and search for personal liberation that led to the most timeless and electrifying work of his career: the poem Howl.

Meanwhile, in a San Francisco courtroom, Howl is on trial. Prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) sets out to prove that the book should be banned, while suave defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) argues fervently for freedom of speech and creative expression. The proceedings veer from the comically absurd to the passionate as a host of unusual witnesses (Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola) pit generation against generation and art against fear in front of conservative Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban).

Howl is simultaneously a portrait of a renegade artist breaking down barriers to find love and redemption, and an imaginative ride through a prophetic masterpiece that rocked a generation and was heard around the world.

A Marine Story. Regional Premiere!  A decorated Marine officer unexpectedly returns home from the war and is quickly recruited to help a troubled teen prepare for boot camp, but when the true reasons for her return become known it threatens the future for both of them.

A Marine Story highlights the absurdity of the military ban on gays through the personal story of one courageous woman.

Written and directed by Ned Farr, the film stars Dreya Weber and Paris P. Pickard.

Hannah Free. Hannah and Rachel grew up as little girls in the same small Midwest town, where traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another. Hannah becomes an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian and Rachel a strong but quiet homemaker. Weaving back and forth between past and present, the film reveals how the women maintained their love affair despite a marriage, a world war, infidelities and family denial.

Based on Chicago Playwright Claudia Allen’s play, Hannah Free was directed by Wendy Jo Carlton and stars the multi-award winning actress Sharon Gless, Maureen Gallagher, Kelli Strickland and Ann Hagemann.

Out in the Silence. Regional Premiere!  Out in the Silence captures the remarkable chain of events that unfold when the announcement of filmmaker Joe Wilson’s wedding to another man ignites a firestorm of controversy in his small Pennsylvania hometown.

Drawn back by a plea for help from the mother of a gay teen being tormented at school, Wilson’s journey dramatically illustrates the universal challenges of being an outsider in a conservative environment and the transformation that is possible when those who have long been constrained by a traditional code of silence summon the courage to break it.

Out in the Silence is more than a movie, it’s part of the movement for fairness, equality and human rights for GLBT people.

Undertow (Contracorriente). Regional Premiere!  Miguel is a handsome, young and beloved fisherman in Cabo Blanco, a small fishing village in the Northern coast of Peru, where the community has deep-rooted religious traditions. Miguel is married to the beautiful Mariela, who is 7-months pregnant with their firstborn, but Miguel harbors a scandalous secret: he is having a love affair with another man, Santiago, a painter who is ostracized by the townsfolk for being agnostic and open about his sexuality.

When Santiago drowns accidentally in theocean’sstrong undertow, he cannot pass peacefully to the other side. He returns after his death to ask Miguel to look for his body and bury it according to the rituals of the town. Miguel must choose between sentencing Santiago to eternal torment or doing right by him and, in turn, revealing their relationship to Mariela and the entire village. Miguel is forced to deal with the consequences of his acts and to come to terms with who he really is, even if by doing so he stands the chance of losing the people he loves the most.

With sweeping images of the beautiful Peruvian coastline, Undertow (Contracorriente) is the emotional intersection of contemporary sexuality, confronted by tradition and belief. This sexy and redolent love story is the feature film debut of Javier Fuentes-León and stars Manolo Cardona, Cristian Mercado and Tatiana Astengo.

Beautiful Darling, a documentary film, pays tribute to the short but influential life of an extraordinary person — the actress Candy Darling, born James Slattery in a Long Island suburb in 1944. Drawn to the feminine from childhood, by the mid-Sixties James had become Candy, a gorgeous, blonde actress and well-known downtown New York figure.

Candy’s career took her through the raucous and revolutionary Off-off-Broadway theater scene and into Andy Warhol’s legendary Factory. There she became close to Warhol and starred in two Factory movies that still shock and amuse today: Flesh and Women in Revolt. Candy used her Warhol fame to land further film roles, and her admirer Tennessee Williams cast her in his play Small Craft Warnings. She dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star, but tragically died of lymphoma in the early Seventies, at only twenty-nine.

Candy’s beauty, humor, and early death, the guts it took to live as a woman, the glamorous parties and the famous friends — most of all the strength of will she demonstrated in her remarkable act of self-creation — moved those who knew her in her lifetime and continue to gather fans today. It’s a story of wild, creative times and of audacious people, but one that has a theme inspiring for anyone, anywhere: whatever the obstacles, be true to yourself.

The film uses both current and vintage interviews, excerpts from Candy’s own diaries and letters, as well as vintage footage of Candy and friend

Participation in communities celebrating the creative spirit from within each heart and honoring the blessings of diversity in gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity and race.

Serve as a resource with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people to enlarge the scope of spiritual expression within organized communities, as the Source of Life is experienced daily and in connection while caring for neighbor as self.

Once again, in deciding a format for this report, it became necessary to deal with the nature of the committee itself. The truth is that all the current participants see church through similar lenses, and much of the input comes from right here in Schenectady, NY. It seems appropriate, again, to use a flow that starts with the specific local experiences and realities, and then to apply those to the church at large.

 FROM THE PARTICULAR …

This church in which we participate has a liturgy, a “work of the people” – an ordering of the small, significant elements that sing to the rhythms of life – of hope – of faith. There is a gathering and welcoming in recognition that we are more than isolated individuals; that we are a community. The confession is practical – a corporate acknowledgment that as a society we fall short. The sharing of joys and concerns, and the holding of each other in prayer are essential. People offer of themselves for the greater good and take according to need. There is the breaking of bread, the sharing of the cup of hope, the benediction that we are able to go out and make a difference, and the blessing to strengthen each other for the journey that is life.

          From Ministry Development Work Area Report March 2010

The liturgy of our church has continued to be sung.

We have continued our work with In Our Own Voices (IOOV) – an organization for LGBTQ people of color. The second NY State Department of Health and IOOV Health Summit was the site for a presentation we did in the name of CWAC on spirituality and health. IOOV’s Black and Latino Gay Pride was another opportunity to be present and serve our sisters and brothers as ordained clergy.

CWAC, with its $500 sponsorship, was the only church represented at the Rainbow Access Initiative Annual Awards Dinner for medical and human service professionals serving LGBT. Recognizing that spirituality and health are interdependent, we have been asked to write spirituality modules for RAI’s professional and consumer health training courses.

CWAC participated in the annual Walk for Rita – a walk for suicide prevention – and we were asked to table at the Annual Diversity Day at the State Museum. Other activities in which we’ve been present, besides the daily and weekly engagements, are a Albany High School PTA presentation for the Trevor Project and, of course, marching in the Gay Pride Parade.

More interesting opportunities lay on the horizon. We will be in Austin Texas in November with a presentation for the Harm Reduction Coalition’s biannual conference. We have been asked to help design a local observation for the Trans Day of Remembrance. We are also working with several other people to organize a youth group for LGBT young people in Schenectady.

Through all these events and the routine activities runs a common thread for us – we have been ministering with those who cringe at the mere mention of the word “Christian”. Some have been hurt by the church, some abandoned, others betrayed, and yet others who fail to see the relevance of church. Being church in this environment brings both challenges and rewards.  

 … TO THE GENERAL

 Church in today’s society exists beyond a limited sacred space at a sacred time each week, and may take on some characteristics that are unorthodox in contemporary Christendom. Because we are living in what we believe to be a microcosm of larger society, we have used our particular situation to teach us some things about church in the 21st century. Some of what we have explored is counter-intuitive and some very predictable.

          From Ministry Development Work Area Report March 2010

 We’ve been discussing different models of church – those that are entrenched in our culture and those that are emerging. Most are centered on a physical place – a brick and mortar church building or store front in the traditional way. While our model, most closely resembling a street ministry or community chaplaincy, does not include a physical location, we do not believe the traditional model is dead. It is unnecessary to abandon the traditional models of church in areas where they still work. For CWAC, however, it may only be practical to use traditional models in concert with other, traditional, denominations.

Some of the church models we’ve engaged with:

Urgent Care – usually featuring assistance such as food pantries, clothing rooms, housing programs, etc.

Farmer’s Market – engaging in programs and mission opportunities that are inter-related and center on a common mission commitment.

Life-saving station – where programs are develop and people are prepared to go out to serve their community.

There are many more, of course, and most churches do not fit neatly into one model. New church starts, however, do need to pick a starting point – choose a model or models that suit their particular mission. Some of the questions that need answered are who they will meet with, where will they meet, how to create sacred space and what source of liturgy will be used.

The engagement point of ministry is changing – molding into shapes that fit the corners and gaps of individual lives; corners where loss  lies quietly waiting for healing; gaps where sorrow and joy may meet. We who gather intend to live the love of God, care for neighbor as self, exposing both need and fulfillment.

We sit at the table together, exploring how it is that our lives have needs, some satisfied and some still longing; we are grateful that the food is good and affordable and that we have a place of belonging here. I suppose that we who gather are at times conscious of the mutual acceptance, shared out of trust and in a sense of self-worth. What had been desperation for a safe place has developed into a need for a space of recollection of friends who share common goals and insights, who enjoy some of the same social activities and who want the opportunity to give to others – to be part of the common good.

Jenna and Andy, along with dozens more, are proud to have been volunteers at the Say It Loud celebration in Albany, NY. Say It Loud is actually a weekend observation of pride for LGBT People of Color, distinct from but kicking off the week long Albany Gay Pride event. Over three days, LGBT People of color, their friends and allies came together in unity to celebrate and recognize this vibrant community within the Capital region of New York State.

We hope, for this community that is historically estranged from their churches of origin, the presence of two ministers serving in very basic ways was at least a little healing.

Zeke (Ezekiel Zirbel Thiessen) is in some ways not much different than many other young twenty-somethings. In others, he is exceptional – although maybe I’m biased. Zeke was honored recently by the University YMCA (University of Minnesota) with the William Teeter Leadership Award. The award recognizes “a student leader who exemplifies the quiet, behind the scenes leadership qualities that focus on relationships and ensuring that the values and spirit of the UY are reflected in day-to-day activities.” Zeke participated in Y Buddies and was instrumental in organizing immersion experiences.

As a member of the Ministry Development Team, Zeke has brought much needed insight into what church is and what church does in the world. Zeke and many of his friends are Christian and, while they talk openly about their faith, they have little time for the church as it exists in this time and space. Rather than doctrine and orthodoxy, Zeke believes the measure of church is what it does in the world – specifically the relationships that are built and nurtured while actively being in the world. No fanfare – not needing to be constantly stroked – just being in God’s good creation with God’s children.

It strikes me that we all could stand deep discussion about what “BEing” church entails.

I met with my son the day after his graduation from college to discuss ministry development – more specifically, church revitalization. He has had no interest or involvement with church orthodoxy in it’s current “popular” state. However, he has remained deeply connected to the body of Christ, enlivening hope where he sees the opportunity through this connection. He continues to inspire the CWAC work area efforts as it’s youngest member.

Ezekiel graduated this May from the University of Minnesota with a degree in international business and finance with a minor in accounting (the latter being his move towards accommodating the current job market). I hear him say he sees the need to recognize people’s labor/handiwork as more than a commodity for trade. He has a sense for the global nature of community. And even more, Ezekiel values the worth of participating in community. With compassion and the sense of enjoyment, Ezekiel has been involved with the University YMCA since his arrival at the UofM.

We would like to invite you to bring New York LGBT Health Month to your community – whether it is in New York or not!!  (Why should New Yorkers have all the good health practices?) As you may already know, the National Coalition for LGBT Health has named March 28th-April 3rd, 2010 the 8th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week

Rainbow Access Initiative is a member of the Healthcare Committee of the NYS LGBT Health & Human Services Network (coordinated through the Empire State Pride Agenda), and we know that our community’s health is too fabulous (and important) to fit into just one week!  So we’ve decided to declare March 2010 as the first annual New York LGBT Health Month.

Our theme this year is “31 Ways for 31 Days”…so throughout the month of March, leading up to National LGBT Health Awareness Week, we are encouraging LGBT New Yorkers and the organizations that serve them to educate, advocate and organize around LGBT health and wellness in all its various forms—physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and social. We’d love it if all LGBT people everywhere would join us in considering March to be LGBT Health Month by implementing good health practices into their daily routines.

We at CWAC believe it is very difficult to have healthy spiritual practices if we do not take care of our physical being as well as we can, and also that it is tough to be physically healthy if we are spiritually hurting. So, following this article, you will find a series of daily posts reminding us that good health care runs the gamut from taking some very simple steps to some exceedingly important, complex ones. I hope you read them all in good physical, spiritual and emotional health.

For more information on LGBTQ health issues visit Rainbow Access Initiative and choose from the menu options on the left side.

For more information on spititual health for LGBTQ visit CWAC’s website or click on the “email us” button and contact me.

 When people get less than 6 hours of sleep each night, their risk for developing certain diseases begins to increase. There are known benefits to getting enough sleep: it supports heart health, it reduces stress, it may help prevent cancer, keeps you more alert and may help strengthen memory, to name a few. Not getting enough can impair judgment, reaction time, vision, concentration, and short-term memory. So get a good night’s sleep!

For more information on LGBTQ health issues visit Rainbow Access Initiative and choose from the menu options on the left side. Of particular interest might be the section on obtaining the services of culturally-competent health providers – it explains why special attention is needed for  LGBTQ healthcare in the first place.

For more information on spititual health for LGBTQ visit CWAC’s website or click on the “email us” button and contact me. CWAC’s anti-heterosexist, anti-racist stand for spiritual justice might just provide the safe place you’re looking for.

 Everyone deals with stress in their life. As LGBT people, there are aspects of our experience that can create more stress for us on a daily basis: homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, coming out. Find healthy ways to reduce stress: talk to a friend, go for a walk or bike ride, or engage yourself in a hobby you enjoy.

For more information on LGBTQ health issues visit Rainbow Access Initiative and choose from the menu options on the left side. Of particular interest might be the section on obtaining the services of culturally-competent health providers – it explains why special attention is needed for  LGBTQ healthcare in the first place.

For more information on spititual health for LGBTQ visit CWAC’s website or click on the “email us” button and contact me. CWAC’s anti-heterosexist, anti-racist stand for spiritual justice might just provide the safe place you’re looking for.

 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S. and the most common cause is the sun.  So, yes, even in March in New York, thinking about sun protection is important…because sunscreen isn’t just for the beach!  Whether you’re planning a trip to warmer climates or hitting the slopes, use it any time you are outside.

For more information on LGBTQ health issues visit Rainbow Access Initiative and choose from the menu options on the left side. Of particular interest might be the section on obtaining the services of culturally-competent health providers – it explains why special attention is needed for  LGBTQ healthcare in the first place.

For more information on spititual health for LGBTQ visit CWAC’s website or click on the “email us” button and contact me. CWAC’s anti-heterosexist, anti-racist stand for spiritual justice might just provide the safe place you’re looking for.