Testimonies from participating Clergy actively involved locally
Rev. R. Charles Grant
When I learned of the effort to organize in Richmond, I was one of the early clergy to be involved. Right off the bat, I was personally attracted to congregation-based community organizing for several reasons: first, it was a faith based and guided program for achieving long term community change; second, organizing is concerned with getting to the root causes of the problems plaguing our society -- not just another inadequate band aid for an insoluble problem; third, congregation-based community organizing, in general and DART in particular have a tested and documented track record of success -- we didn't have to "invent the wheel" to bring greater justice to our community; forth, it provides the structure for establishing real relationships across racial and cultural divides; fifth, it gives a focus to my faith commitments and my calling as a pastor. Many pastors 'talk the talk" of doing justice. Through congregation-based community organizing, I have discovered the vehicle for me and my congregation to begin to "walk the walk" as well. Finally, I find the skills and power I develop through my justice ministry cross over to other facets of my ministry as well. Now I cannot imagine being a pastor without doing justice ministry. Our local congregation-based community organization is known as RISC (Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Community). RISC has made a tremendous impact on my congregation. For years, my suburban Presbyterian congregation has been a leader in our area when it comes to community ministry, conversation around contemporary social and political issues, and advocacy. We talked about justice a lot, but we had not done justice. Now, through RISC and DART our people are experiencing a growing sense of empowerment and fulfillment, as we work with other people of faith to bring God's justice to our metropolitan area: we are getting things done we never even dreamed of talking about! At our most recent action meeting, our turnout was twice what we had achieved in our five years with RISC -- about a third of our weekly average worship attendance. The buzz around our congregation since the meeting has really been exciting. Our people feel like the commitments we secured in the action meeting were significant. We are already beginning to think of turning out for a community action the same number of people we turn out for worship.
Dr. James Proctor
My involvement with our local organizing effort, known as ICARE (Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment), has powerfully reinforced my conviction neither that pastor, nor any one else should not do for people what they, together, can do for themselves. When people are involved in researching, planning and implementing strategies and processes to solve problems it is a great source of empowerment for them, the congregation and the community. Moreover, it is theologically sound to help parishioners to identify their "gifts" and use those "gifts" for the "common good." For more than two hundred years, the African Methodist Episcopal church has labored to promote justice for its people. My involvement with ICARE simply helped strengthen my resolve to work with others in the community to accomplish what one congregation alone could not accomplish. One of the highlights of my work in faith-based community organization during the last ten years has been developing, and deepening personal relationships in my own community and through out the DART network. It has been enormously gratifying to see people in my community who thought they could never make a difference be equipped to work tireless for justice. Clergy who are considering justice ministry for the first time, I say one cannot learn to swim by reading a book. The work of justice is not easy. However, one is a part of the solution or one is apart of the problem. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are replete with references where the priests of old were corrupt and did not do the will of God. Sometimes clergy are good at the ritualistic and mercy aspects of ministry but woefully poor in their efforts for justice. Can one truly be doing the will of God, fulfilling one's call to ministry without working to make this world become the kingdom of God?
Dr. Howard L. Apothaker
In the Jewish tradition the question of "why do you get involved
in your community?" is a funny one. I have learned over the years to
be polite when answering this question, but I chuckle a bit to myself
whenever I am asked. The reason I smile is because working in the
community is a way Jewish people express themselves religiously. In other
words, participating in the community is not a conscious choice we make or
an effort we encourage our members to take up. This is the way Jewish
people are brought up -- it's the way we do things. To ignore the problems
in the community would be far outside our collective experience.
Dr. Rev. Emmanuel Sykes
There are several things organizing has taught me, and members from my
congregation. All my life I have possessed a strong sense of justice and I
have not been afraid to be outspoken in the community when the opportunity
presented itself. But organizing with others has taught me you can
accomplish so much more together than you ever could being a lone ranger.
Father Phil EgittoOur local DART affiliate is known as FAITH (Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony). Being involved in FAITH has helped my parish feel they can actually do something more than be nice people in following the call of Christ. It has helped them make their faith have real implications for their lives and the way they live them. It has helped them feel less powerless and more powerful in dealing with the problems of poverty in our community. For me personally, I have appreciated the relationships with fellow clergy that I developed as part of FAITH. As a Catholic priest we tend to be parochial and stick to our "own". Being involved with FAITH has opened my life to very rich relationships with the other ministers in the community. For me it has been a great support system and has greatly enriched my life.
If I were offering a word of advice to fellow clergy considering justice ministry, I would have to say, Just do it! Faith without works is meaningless. It takes time but the benefits are many. My community is one that is rich in faith and one that is involved in truly living the Christian life. The people want to be involved, they just don't know how. As a priest it is my job to enable them and justice work has been the best way I have been able to involve most of the parish in one cause and one vision not about ourselves!