Tag Archives: social justice

New Church Partnership Models

15 Jul

My work as a writer, editor and church worker have all put me in conversation with friends in Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Muslim and Jewish communities who are all wondering about the future of spiritual life in the United States. In many of these US circles, attendance at worship is down, especially among young people, and religious professionals are asking some hard questions. When Good Ground Press invited me to blog at Keeping Faith Today, they simply said, “Write about what it means to be a faithful person today. Talk about it all– the joys, controversies, and challenges.” It is rewarding work to be a part of the conversation across denominational lines.

Some exciting new models are coming out of the hard questions that religious professionals are asking about the future of the church. One trend I am seeing is churches and nonprofits being open and willing to work with for profit companies in new partnerships. The examples that are working are those where the partnership is savvy, relevant, and symbiotic. Here is an interesting example brought to my attention by Adam Copeland, a Presbyterian friend working at a Lutheran College with faith, leadership and new media, on one of his blog posts:

Via Kickstarter, Broad Street Ministry is seeking to partner with Federal Donuts to create Rooster Soup Company:

We want to use high-quality chicken backs & bones that would go to waste…

… to make delicious soup to sell

… and donate 100% of our profits to [Broad Street Ministry] dedicated to helping those in need.

Let’s break this down a bit. Broad Street Ministry is a forward thinking church in Philadelphia that does a lot more than worship. Federal Donuts is a for profit donut and chicken shop in Philadelphia. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform often used by artists and entrepreneurs looking for start up funds to launch the next great idea. Very few churches and religious nonprofits have used Kickstarter thus far, but visionaries at Broad Street are giving it a try. So we have a church partnering with a for profit and using a crowd-funding platform to build a new model. The pieces are all there. Federal Donuts is in because if this launches, they will not have to pay to have their backs and bones disposed of. Broad Street Ministry is in because all the proceeds from Rooster Soup Company will go back to Broad Street to fund programming. And in theory every day people like you and I are in and decide to support them by funding their start-up costs because we are fans of donuts, chicken, soup, less wasted food, more good ministry and smart partnerships like this one.

Young people want to see churches doing relevant work in their communities. Here is an example of a church willing to be in the community not only addressing the hunger in Philadelphia with its ministry, but also being willing to work with for profit companies in the community to create partnerships where everyone benefits. These partnerships are popping up in cities all over the US, driven by innovative leaders with a pulse on issues that need addressing via street-smart means. Check out this Kickstarter campaign and keep your eyes open in your community for new models of church partnership.

Let Your Light Shine

6 Feb
Photo by flickr user jlodder

Photo by flickr user jlodder

It was just over two years ago that my sister invited me to a fundraiser for the KGSA Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities whose mission is to engage globally by providing resources and advocacy to support the needs of local communities. Knowing my interest in education and empowerment for young women, she told me that the current focus of the KGSA Foundation was a partnership with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), a free, community-run, all-girls secondary school in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.

In response to her request, I launched into the sort of hemming and hawing that I usually reserve for telemarketers: “I don’t know if we can afford to give to their cause right now, I hate to take a night away from the kids, I can’t bear to leave my warm house on a Thursday evening in the middle of a Minnesota December.” Having already met the founder of the KGSA Foundation, a charismatic young man in his middle twenties who graduated from our high school alma mater, my sister challenged me to show up and not be moved by the work this group was doing.

So with an attitude of “I’ll show her,” I arrived at the event. And despite not wanting to give my sister the satisfaction of being right, I found myself moved. I was taken in by the story of Abdul, a Kiberan man who was disturbed enough by the lack of options for the young women in his community (many young women either marry at a desperately young age or end up turning to prostitution to support themselves) that he started first a soccer program, to get the girls off the streets, and then a secondary school, so these girls could raise their prospects for the future. I was taken in by the story of Ryan, the KGSA Foundation executive director, who had met Abdul in a bar while on a study abroad program in Kibera and decided to dedicate his post-college years to supporting Abdul’s work. Taken in by these stories, my heart was more open to the appeal that followed. However, I knew that our family would only be able to give a little financially… and then I heard Ryan say that they were looking for interested volunteers to serve on the first board of directors for the Foundation.

Hearing this petition for help, I realized that it was the sort of thing I had not even known I had been looking for. I was in between jobs. I had put off any sort of volunteer work for the past four years of birthing and raising my two sons. Tired of feeling so overwhelmed by the world’s problems, I wanted a tangible way to live my desire for social justice in the world. I e-mailed Ryan the next day and was on the board of directors within a few weeks, lending my writing skills to the Foundation’s grant writing efforts.

In this week’s Gospel from Matthew 5, Jesus tells their disciples that they are a light for the world and that they must allow their light to shine before others in the form of their good deeds. And just in case we modern readers are not sure what these deeds would look like, the lectionary gives us a first reading from Isaiah that makes it plain: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

That evening at the fundraiser I had so strongly resisted attending, I felt my light being called forth and I was at a point in my life where I could hear and respond to the call. We all have gifts that we can share with the world; we all encounter opportunities, big and small, to let our light shine in the world through our deeds. In your own life, when have you felt called to let your light shine? To what are you being called right now, whether you have been aware of it or not?

The Verbs of Everyday Living

11 Nov

Christianityisabout

This excerpt from Sunday By Sunday for November 17 seems especially apt following the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan:

“In the face of war, earthquakes, famines, plagues – the regular stuff of today’s headlines – Jesus recommends patient endurance. He has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone besides themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away wreckage. The courage of soldiers and marathon survivors inspires us as they learn to use prosthetic arms and legs.

Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgive, include, speak the truth, listen, learn, build, rejoice, have compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand.” – Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Read the full issue here.

Here is a list of ways to help the survivors of Haiyan - add other suggestions in the comments.

Gospel Reflection for November 3, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

29 Oct

Jesus asks, “Today salvation has come to this house for he, too, is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost.”

Luke 19.9-10

Jesus’ final statement in the gospel makes his mission clear: he comes to seek out and save the lost.  Jesus draws Zacchaeus, the marginalized tax collector, into the mystery of God’s unconditional love.  In response Zacchaeus pledges the almsgiving that marks a true Jew, a son of Abraham—half his possessions to people who are poor.  He promises to repay anyone he has defrauded fourfold.  Neither the law nor his greed isolate Zacchaeus any longer.

What is your experience of being an outsider?


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Gospel Reflection for October 20, 2013, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 Oct

Jesus tells the parable of the unjust judge who gives in to a widow who persists in seeking her rights.

Jesus asks, “Will God not do justice to those chosen ones who call out day and night?  Will God delay justice for them?”

Luke 18.7

In Luke’s time widows have little place in society but many find a home in Christian communities.  The widow’s voice demanding her rights would perk up the ears of Luke’s original listeners.  The poor widow represents the helpless and abandoned of the world; she has no legal rights without a husband.  She lives at the mercy of those who ought to protect her.

People who are poor today often become victims of the powerful, pawns of the mighty.  The recession, the sequestration, the stall in Congress—all hurt those most in need.  Yet our heritage is one of a hope that comes through faith in the goodness of God and the goodness of those who follow Jesus’ way.

Whose persistence do you admire?


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Social Action: Bread for the World

3 Oct

Social action has two feet.

Serving our neighbors means we act in charity and for justice. Charity is about responding to people’s immediate needs – serving a meal at a shelter, stocking a food pantry. Justice identifies ways to work for systemic change with national or international organizations. For example, celebrate Bread for the World Sunday in your parish on one of the Sundays between World Food Day (October 16) and Thanksgiving.

Contact Bread for the World for its packet on the 2013 effort to stop irreversible damage to malnourished children in their first 1,000 days of life and mobilize collective action internationally to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers and Children.

Gospel Reflection for September 22, 2013, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 Sep

Jesus said, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  Neither can you serve both God and wealth.”

Luke 16.13

In the parable that forms Sunday’s gospel (Luke 16.1-13), Jesus surprisingly holds up an embezzler as a role model in ingenuity in protecting his own interests when he get fired.   Luke’s gospel does not let the self-serving manager go without criticizing him.  A series of sayings follow that pass judgment on dishonest people.  The saying insists that whoever is dishonest with a little can’t be trusted with a lot.  No one can trust a cheater.  No one can serve two masters.

What good things do you take for granted that are beyond the reach of poor people in your area or in the world?


 If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
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Peace Begins with Me

14 Aug

Quick: When you read the word “peace,” what do you think of?

If you could take more time, how would you define peace?

If you could take even more time, what plan would you draw up to promote peace around the world?

A few days ago, a friend of mine gave me a card small enough that it could fit in my wallet. The front read, “Peace begins with me,” written in simple letters with multiple blue circles drawn around the “me.” The back proclaimed me a hero with the following sentiment:

It might have been your smile.

It might have been a real, connected conversation.

It might have been as simple as you really seeing me or you really being you!

That is a hero in my book, in a world that can feel … disconnected.

herocard-1024x774The back also asked me to initial the card and to pass it along to the next hero that I meet. The cards are distributed by Peace Begins with Me, which according to their website is a “humanitarian, non-profit organization dedicated to education, inspiration, and collaboration in the area of inner peace, knowing that, because we are all connected, inner peace is the way to global peace.”

At least for me, this is a slightly different way to think about peace. When I hear the word “peace,” I tend to think of global conflicts, genocide, and cease fires. When I try to define peace, it is only in the negative, that is, as a lack of violence, rather than a positive state of being that involves how I view and treat myself, others, and our world. If I had to make a plan for peace, I would say I can’t do very much, since it needs to involve treaties, free elections, and truth and reconciliation commissions.

But this organization makes the claim that peace begins much closer to home—with ourselves. It makes the claim that each and every one of us has something to do with creating peace in the world. It wants us to practice living with integrity and intention, so that we can live as ourselves and so that we can let others live as their selves.

What does peace in relationship with the self involve? I believe it is grounded in a compassion for the self. Instead of beating ourselves up over real and perceived faults, we are called to accept and respect who we are as children of God. I believe it is grounded in knowing ourselves well, so that we can speak and live what is in our heart. Practicing the art of knowing ourselves truly and honoring that self helps us flex the muscles we need to treat the Others in our lives, those who are different from us, with the honor and respect they also deserve as children of God.

The idea of working toward a peaceful self resonates in an interesting way with this week’s Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus, our “Prince of Peace,” says that his coming will not bring peace but rather division, division in households, division between fathers and sons and between mothers and daughters. While the gospel does not mention this, Jesus’ presence in our lives can also bring division to our very selves, and this is not necessarily a wholly bad thing. As the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” As followers of Christ, we have the desire to live as Christ lived; we want to follow in his footsteps. Yet in our humanity, we find ourselves falling short and doing that which we do not want to do.

For example, as the new school year approaches and I prepare to send my oldest son to kindergarten, I have thought about how my buying habits reflect or do not reflect my Christian identity. I would like to purchase clothes that I know are made in safe working conditions by workers being paid a living wage. But then I find a good deal on uniform clothes and I put out of my mind thoughts about how it is possible that this store can sell me pants for seven dollars and shirts for only five. I am an inner house divided, wanting to be thrifty but feeling how this conflicts with my commitments to social justice. And in this space of discomfort, I feel God calling me forward toward new ways of being (and shopping) in the world that can bring more peace.

This gap between what we want to do and what we do is what continues to pull us forward on our spiritual journeys, as we strive to conform ourselves more closely with Christ. As we work for greater symmetry between our beliefs and our actions, between what we know and what we do, we work for peace in ourselves.

What does the phrase “Peace begins with me” mean to you?

In what areas of your life do you feel like a house divided, wanting to do one thing but doing another? What can you do to bring more inner peace to your life?

Sunday by Sunday excerpt for July 21

18 Jul

“When parishes celebrate their centennials and create books to tell the history of their communities of faith, these books unfailingly feature their pastors. If the parish has a school, the history may single out its principals by name and with photos as it does the pastors. Who else such books feature is up for grabs.

Telling our history or decorating our walls with the photos of pastors, principals, CEOs, and mother superiors equates the parish, the student body, a company, or a religious community with its official heads.

In the case of parishes, especially small parishes and rural parishes, pastors come and go. The parish community has its own less visible leaders who animate its continuing practice of Christian life. Many of these leaders are women. Most don’t make the parish history book or get wall space.”

Independence Day: A reflection by Joan Mitchell, CSJ

3 Jul

fireworks

This weekend, the people of the United States go to parks, play and swim, eat hot dogs, and watch red, white and blue fireworks cascade, explode, and spill down dark night skies. The Fourth of July celebrates the signing of this nation’s Declaration of Independence from England and George III in 1776.

We come to Independence Day 2013 recognizing that “all men” includes all women and people of every color and their right to vote. We come amid polarizing tensions in our nation on the size of government and ammunition clips, but we rise together for the color guard that leads the hometown parade.

The common good requires negotiation, listening to people unlike ourselves and giving people who are poor a voice. Like James and John in last Sunday’s gospel, many of us are willing to call down fire from heaven to destroy those with whom we differ.

The Fourth of July calls for fireworks of a different kind – involved citizens. As we gather with crowds to watch rainbow colors spill across the sky, we can commit to participate in our democracy, to talk to our neighbors, agree and disagree, dialog with legislators, build coalitions, and seek the common good together.

Order Sunday By Sunday for more from Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Enjoy this blessing for Independence Day and have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

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