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.

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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.

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.

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.

 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.

 A 2007 study found that in NY State, 64% of LGBT High School students reported feeling unsafe in their schools.  Help make schools in your area safer by supporting LGBT youth and the agencies that serve them…and advocate for school change by supporting organizations like GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) and/or legislation to make LGBT students safe like the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).

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.