Sermon. July 18, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
Throughout the summer we will be looking at our Core Values. Last week we focused on Loving Church Family, based on the Love Commandment to love one another. Today we will begin to look at Neighborhood Engagement, based on the second half of the Great Commandment to love our neighbors.
The UCC Church Profile has an entire section focused on answering the question, “Who Is Our Neighbor?” In my experience, many local churches have a very difficult time answering this question. This is a much deeper question than giving an account of the demographics of a community.
Faith-based community organizing offers very helpful resources for Neighborhood Engagement. Developing leaders who have a strong foundation in the processes and stages of faith-based community organizing will greatly advance our Neighborhood Engagement efforts.
Church leaders with organizing gifts and skills will enrich our Neighborhood Engagement ministry much like having leaders with musical gifts and skills enriches our worship.
The first question an organizer asks is “Who are my people?” not “What is my issue?” Answering the question, “Who are my people?” gives focus to the broader question, “Who Is Our Neighbor?”
Whatever issues that an organizer or faith-rooted organizing group focuses on emerges out of answering the “Who are my people?” question. Through a listening process the organizer learns about the concerns and challenges that people face. This then is crystalized into a concrete issue. This listening process begins with knowing “Who are my people?”
If you asked folks at many local churches “who are my people?” their basic response would be that “my people” are those already in the congregation. This is fine and is why we have our Loving Church Family core value. It is important for people in a local church to love one another.
If you asked “who are my people?” in the context of “who is our neighbor?” however there might be some confusion. You might get an “everyone who lives in our community” response. But this “everyone” is so unfocused to really mean “no one.”
Too many local churches treat neighbor engagement as an add-on or afterthought to the main ministry they do. To lift up Neighbor Engagement as one of the core values within a local church is to be called to theological reflection on who our neighbors are, with an emphasis on knowing “who are my people?” in order to listen to and engage them.
A local church may have multiple answers to “who are my people?” Two ways that we answer “who are my people?” at UCC Norwich are Music and ONA – Open and Affirming.
UCC Norwich is a faith community that embraces and affirms people with a passion for music. We see this in our staffing for music ministry: a director of music, an organist, and a music associate.
We express this in our choir and bell choir, in our music scholarships, and in our deep appreciation for and uplifting of those with musical gifts. “Who are my people?” at UCC Norwich are people passionate about music.
UCC Norwich is a faith community that embraces and affirms LGBTQ+ people. We are an LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church.
We express this in our ONA Youth group, our #RainbowMondays online campaign, and in our loving appreciation and uplifting of people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.
The job of a community organizer is to transform a community – a group of people who share common values or interests – into a constituency – a community of people who are standing together to realize a common purpose. The difference between community and constituency is in the commitment to take action to further common goals.
Neighborhood Engagement happens when we transform a community of people who share a passion for music into a constituency committed to take action to realize common goals. We become an Anchor Institution in our community to further God’s gift of music.
Neighborhood Engagement happens when we transform a community of people who share a passion for being Open and Affirming into a constituency committed to take action with LGBTQ+ youth, adults, and allies. We become an Anchor Institution in our community for LGBTQ+ Inclusion.
Organizing is a practice. There are five key leadership practices for faith-rooted community organizing: Story, Relationship, Team, Strategy, and Action.
- How to articulate a STORY of why we are called to lead, a story of the community we hope to mobilize, and a story of why we must act.
- How to build intentional RELATIONSHIPS as the foundation of purposeful collective actions.
- How to create TEAMS that distribute power and responsibility and that prioritize leadership development.
- How to STRATEGIZE turning your resources into the power to achieve clear goals.
- How to translate strategy into measurable, motivational, and effective ACTION.
Organizing is a leadership practice. In the next several weeks we will look at these key leadership practices for faith-rooted community organizing.
Organizing is a framework for understanding how to do Neighborhood Engagement ministry. A ministry framework that transforms a community with common values or interests into a constituency taking action to realize common goals.
Organizing is a mindset that helps us live into our core value of loving our neighbor. In the next several weeks, as we go deeper into the practical theology of organizing, we will discover and discern the ways in which organizing is a faith practice empowers us and the people we engage to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
If you look at the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles from an organizing mindset it becomes very clear that Jesus spent much of his time developing a core leadership team, and that this core leadership team was then empowered by the Holy Spirit to build a network of small grassroots Jesus Communities throughout the Empire. We have a Church and a faith tradition as followers of Christ because Jesus was a community organizer.