How your community of faith can bring about lasting change

We’ve heard the proverb “Give a person a fish and s/he eats for a day. Teach the person to fish and s/he eats for a lifetime.” Becoming the beloved community requires that we meet immediate needs AND face the demanding work of changing the conditions that create that need. Our take on the old proverb might be “Give a bag of groceries to a person and s/he eats for a week. Give a person a job, a living wage, a safe environment and access to high quality health care and s/he eats for a lifetime.”

We in the Diocese of Southern Ohio are very good at meeting immediate needs for food, clothing, temporary shelter, school supplies, and so much more. As we embrace the challenge and opportunity of becoming beloved community, we are invited to think more deeply and act more intentionally to bring about lasting changes in our communities. Below are a few suggestions on how our congregations can address justice issues in our communities.

BUILD AWARENESS

Host conversations with diverse congregations and communities to gain a clearer idea of what are the issues that divide us. Agree on issues for concrete action and develop strategies that will have lasting impact. 

Learn about the value of community asset mapping at communitycrewhub.com/assests/Asset_Mapping_Workbook.pdf or a similar site. Develop two asset maps – one of the community surrounding your parish and one of an impoverished neighborhood close to you (if these locations are different). Compare the maps and discuss the availability of jobs, services, and community resources. Get to know your neighbors and plan together to address disparities. Take action to bring more equity among neighborhoods in terms of shopping, jobs, transportation, services, and recreational resources.

Participate in the diocesan Big Read of Luke/Acts with special attention to Jesus’ concern for justice for “the least of these.”

Host book studies and video discussions based on the resources listed on the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community website www.DSObeloved.org

CREATE COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS

Explore partnerships with other communities of faith and local organizations in addressing the needs in your community, the state, the country, and the world.

Host gatherings with people of other faiths, nationalities, and cultures. Plan for recurring get-togethers so that relationships have an opportunity to deepen.

Provide volunteers for projects that make lasting changes in the community, such as Habitat for Humanity, job training and educational enrichment programs, mentoring and community gardens.

Partner with a neighborhood school, volunteering time and talent to mentor students.

BE THE CHANGES YOU HOPE TO SEE

A high percentage of youth who “age out” of foster care experience homelessness. If you or other families in your congregation have a spare room, offer housing to a young person leaving the foster care system.

Experience first-hand eating on a SNAP (food stamp) budget. Challenge members to spend a week preparing food using $1.41 per person per meal – the average SNAP benefit. At the end of the week, discuss the experience and plan actions to address the inadequacy of the benefit amount.

Assemble “Welcome Home” gifts to provide needed household items and support for families transitioning from homelessness to housing.

Plant a community garden and fruit trees, hanging out a “Welcome” sign to passers-by who may enjoy a fresh tomato, an apple or a bunch of lettuce.

If you own a business or hire employees, create internships, job-shadowing experiences and employment opportunities for youth and adults in need, with focused efforts to hire those who have been incarcerated in the past. Volunteer in job preparation programs, sharing your expertise with others. Model just employment practices (wages and benefits). 

Institute changes in your congregation’s employment practices to ensure justice.

Recycle and reuse. Place recycling containers next to every trash can in your church. Eliminate the use of disposable plastic water bottles, paper plates, Styrofoam containers, and plastic dinnerware. 

Offer unused space in your building to programs that address long-term solutions to issues in the community.

Join local and statewide community organizing efforts to bring direct action to issues of justice.

SPEAK UP FOR JUSTICE

VOTE. Hold or attend candidate forums to learn where those running for office stand on the issues of justice for all of God’s people.

Know your elected officials – local, state, and national. Invite them to your congregation to discuss issues of justice in your community. Invite them to walk with you through communities where human need is great.

Know the laws being proposed at local, state, and national levels of government. The Rev. Deniray Mueller provides weekly updates in our diocesan e-Connections.

Participate in lobby days sponsored by local and statewide groups around issues important to you. Take your children with you to visit the Ohio Statehouse.

Based on the asset maps you have drawn, advocate for changes that bring more equality to all your neighbors in terms of shopping, jobs, services, and recreational resources.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Anne Reat serves as Canon for Formation for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with her at lareat@diosohio.org.