Tired of nothing seemingly happening to better God’s world, the 1,300-member Westminster Presbyterian Church, located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided it was time to join ranks with other churches and organizations through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)...
[IAF affiliate] Together West Michigan, comprised of 20-plus organizations seeking to create substantive change in the greater Grand Rapids area, was exactly what Westminster wanted to get involved with.
According to the Rev. Lynette Sparks, senior pastor of Westminster, Together West Michigan — whose name was chosen for easy translation into Spanish — is about building relationships and encouraging people and institutions to come together to make change.
“Jesus was about building relationships across lines, and we are about building power and defining power as the ability to act. Power itself is neutral. How you use it is what matters,” she said, adding, “So many families don’t have a voice or the power to right the injustices they encounter, but churches and secular organizations do — especially when they join together for a common cause.”
[Photo Credit: Westminster Presbyterian Church]
For four decades, the Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero has influenced El Paso far beyond the walls of the parishes he pastored. He has been a key part of efforts to bring water and sewer services to tens of thousands of homes, and train hundreds of El Pasoans for jobs that paid a living wage and altered lives....
Those who worked with him said he fought poverty and injustice wherever he saw it. EPISO was involved in efforts to build El Paso Children’s Hospital and expand University Medical Center clinics across the county so that more people would have access to health care.
While Roden-Lucero served as pastor of San Juan Diego Catholic Church in Montana Vista, EPISO led an effort to divide the Clint Independent School District Board of Trustees into single-member districts so that power and resources were more evenly divided.
Roden-Lucero arrived in El Paso a couple of years after a group of mostly Catholic churches formed the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO, a nonprofit organization that trained community-based leaders to advocate for issues important to them. He had received training from the Industrial Areas Foundation, EPISO’s parent organization, before coming to El Paso.
EPISO leaders quickly focused on the dire situation in colonias, neighborhoods along the U.S.-Mexico border that had been developed without the most basic human services. By the mid-1980s, more than 80,000 El Paso County residents lived in homes without water or wastewater services. Many of them developed hepatitis A because they drank from water wells dug next to septic tanks.
State and local leaders had shown little interest in addressing the growing crisis. So EPISO and other IAF affiliates across Texas organized and turned up the heat, bringing national media attention to shameful conditions along the border.
Dolores DeAvila, an educator in El Paso’s Lower Valley and EPISO member, met Roden-Lucero in the early 1980s and was part of the fight to bring water to the colonias.
“I have learned a lot from him in terms of his being very courageous, acting on his beliefs and working with his parishioners, engaging them in their needs,” she said.
Years of lobbying and public pressure by EPISO and its sister organizations paid off in 1989, when Texas voters passed a bond issue to begin the process of providing water and wastewater infrastructure to border colonias....
[Photo Credit: Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters]
The Priest Who Spent 40 Years Fighting to Reshape El Paso, El Paso Matters [pdf]
In Light of Pope Francis' Criticism of Both Left and Right Populism, IAF's Community Organizing Offers a 3rd Way
Francis calls for nothing less than a Copernican revolution in our understanding and practice of politics, one in which ordinary people are not a hard-to-reach “periphery” but the center around which the rest of the firmament revolves....
In Let Us Dream, Francis urges the church to be more receptive to such popular alliances—accompanying them both practically and spiritually, without seeking to dominate. He identifies “labor” and “lodgings” as two of the key issues for grass-roots action. The success of the IAF’s Living Wage campaigns, and its renewal of whole neighborhoods in New York and Baltimore through the Nehemiah Housing program, demonstrates the power of institution-based organizing. If parishes and dioceses heed the pope’s call to engage with new vigor in this work, it can play a significant role in the civic renewal that is so urgently needed.
Community organizing has two crucial features that ensure the poorest citizens have agency. First, it is institution-based. Across almost a century of community organizing, both religious and secular organizers have found religious congregations to be the most resilient and powerful institutions on which to build what veteran organizer Ernesto Cortés Jr. calls “a graduate school to teach people how to participate in politics and shape their communities’ futures.”
As Mr. Cortés explained in an interview with Rev. Ritchie: “Citizens are formed through the process of organizing. It requires institutions which can incubate this process by passing on the habits, practices, and norms necessary for humans with different opinions and temperaments to flourish together: to compromise, to talk to and not just about one another, to act in the light of one another’s views and needs and not just unilaterally or selfishly.”
Second, community organizing is inclusive. Click below for the rest of the article.
[Photo Credit: Paul Haring/CNS]
Pope Francis has Criticized Both the Left and the Right’s Politics. Community Organizing Offers a Third Way, America, The Jesuit Review [pdf]
Almost ten years ago, Project QUEST agreed to participate in a randomized control trial in which half of a pool of 400+ qualified and equally motivated applicants were picked by a computer to participate in Project QUEST. The other half were turned away. They pursued other options.
After three years, Project QUEST graduates already earned more than those who were turned away. By Year 6, the difference in earnings not only persisted, but increased to over $5,000 per year.Read more
Says Rev. Susanna Singer, "Bishops were saying increasingly that community organizing is a good thing." The creation faith, she argues, is about God's vision of flourishing for humanity and the cosmos. "It means that the body of Christ, which is us now, has got to get out there now and be involved in the communities in which we live because that's where God's dream is going to come true."Read more
"Ed believed in the mission of the church, and I don't just mean the Roman Catholic Church," Sister Christine Stephens, a member of Chambers's leadership team in the I.A.F., said. "That mission involved dealing with people who are on the margins, people who don't have power."
One LA Leverages Support for Expanded Healthcare Coverage from LA County Supervisor District 3 Candidates
â€¢ Increase funding for My Health LA if the current funding stream falls short of covering all those eligible;Read more
This video, designed to showcase the craft of experienced organizer practitioners, was shot during a 3-Day IAF Training in Las Vegas, Nevada. Click on photo at right, or click here, to view clip.
Kicanas' appeal came as he spoke to members of Yuma County Interfaith, a faith-based group whose leaders and members represent a variety of religious denominations in the area."Read more