Community Organizing

It is June! Wow! This means we are nearing the end of our first year together as pastor and congregation. When I first met with the leaders of St. Paul’s February of 2016, your hopes were loud and clear: we want to grow; we want to learn how to let go of past problems and face the future with hope and determination as we figure out how to be relevant in an ever-changing world. We have done some great work together this year, work we should certainly celebrate, but in terms of revitalizing our ministries and reinventing ourselves, we have just begun to scratch the surface.

The truth is, we have tried as a congregation and as a district to do things the same old way and achieve new results. This method of church revitalization and growth simply has not worked. Thus, we are going to try something new—community organizing.

In April, I had the blessing of attending training on how to be a community organizer. Organizers are ordinary people who learn how to leverage power, mobilize people, turn insurmountable problems into actionable issues, and help unite people around common passions and concerns that connect with their own self-interests.

As a result of the training, my conviction was strengthened that at the heart of progress is relationship. We spend too much time talking to each other without really hearing. We spend a lot of energy doing ministry and charitable work for the community without ever engaging with them in meaningful partnerships. Relational one-on-ones are the heart of community organizing. Relationship helps us to find where our passions align, and how we can support each other on the places where our individual interests connect. In order for us to grow, we must do more than try to figure out what the community needs. Instead, we must spend time getting to know our neighbors and invite them to join in the process of changing our community. This means we have to be willing to think of ourselves as partners of our ministries and stewards of our building, instead of owners of either.

We will start by engaging the organizational lifecycle as a part of our vision and practice in our congregation. The organizing lifecycle has four distinctive phases. The first phase is listening. We will be spending more time intentionally listening to each other, the leaders in our community, and the people who live in our neighborhoods. We will do this through one on one conversations and small group meetings where everyone is invited to share their perspectives, ideas, and passions. This is the most important part of the lifecycle, and we will spend a lot of time and effort on building relationships.

The second phase is discerning and planning. We will gather together to share the things we learn by listening, focus on issues that align with the needs and interests of all involved as well as our mission, and then determine the best way to act for change. Part of this will be choosing to focus on issues (actionable, solvable challenges) instead of problems (big, depressing, overwhelming situations that are beyond our control to change.)

The third phase is action. Based on our discernment and planning, we will do something that is intended to bring results. This is the hands-on part of the life- cycle. This is the place where we will work together with members and leaders of our congregation as well as those in our community who have a stake in the outcome of projects and programs.

The final stage is celebration and evaluation. We will spend time evaluating the actions we took, deciding where we can improve, celebrating the work we did together, and figuring out next steps. Then as those next steps become clear, we will begin the lifecycle all over again with a new listening season.

We will begin our first organizing cycle this summer as we roll out a Summer BBQ project. This is an exciting series of events that will run 5 weeks, beginning July 5. We will provide a free meal for the community (using a recently-awarded from District Vital Ministries grant), a family activity, and some fun giveaways. At the same time, we will begin getting to know our neighbors in new ways. Church members will engage in conversation with guests and ask specific questions that will help us learn more about what people see, what they want and need, and what the define as spiritually relevant in their lives and our community.

In order for this even to be a success, YOU must participate! We are all busy, most of us are tired, and many of us feel uncomfortable engaging in conversation with strangers. Yet, our Christian faith calls us to engage those around us in love in order to build relationships and spread the hope of the Gospel message. As followers of Jesus, friends of this church, and members of the Milwaukie community, we have to all be willing to step a little bit out of our comfort zones and risk meeting new people and making new friends.

Together, we will step into a new era here at St Paul’s UMC. We will create new spaces for new faces and catch the spirit of a new vision, the full reality of which we are just beginning to discover.

Love, Pastor Becca