The biggest question I've heard after our nation's election, after pain, fear and worry, is, "What can I do?"
It's a good question, and one that feels hard to answer. The first 100 day plan of the president elect lays out a number of measures that make vulnerable people in our nation even more vulnerable. There are so many areas that will need support and care, yet we know that to be powerful as a Church we need to focus our efforts.
St. Lydia's had our first planning meeting the Saturday after the election, and sort of went into warp drive mode formulating our response! I hope the agenda we used might help you and your congregation as you plan your own response to this time in our history. Every congregation is important! We all have a role to play.
This agenda is designed to help our congregation identify the gifts we will bring to this time in our nation's history, and how we feel most motivated to respond. Rooted in our identity as a Christian congregation, our goal was to create a clear action plan for each individual at the meeting, and a three phase action plan for our congregation. We want to center our efforts in our love of neighbor and our unending human capacity to be creative.
The goal of our meeting was to come up with a Three-Phase Plan:
1. Say No To Hate-Based Policies and Practices
2. Protect and Stand With the Vulnerable
3. Connect Across Boundaries for Change
A few notes:
- We held a three hour meeting and moved at a good clip through the items. I knew that my folks were ready for action, and wanted to get going on a plan. Not all congregations feel the same way. Some might really need to talk through what it means for a church to be politically involved, others will need to process the election together. You could easily split this agenda into several meetings to give your congregation more time to think and process.
- This meeting was planned for a congregation that has been doing work in justice making for some time, and tends to identify as liberal. If that's not your congregation, you will might need to lay ground work that we didn't lay in this meeting. Comment below with your thoughts, and I'll do my best to write a post for you!
- Print outs of Reflection Sheet
- Print outs of an Agenda (ours is here)
- Two stickers of different colors for each participants (we used red and blue)
- Three large papers on the wall.
- The first (photo below) is called "What We're Concerned About," and has a list of issues that need attention and care as a result of the election and a column on the right and a column on the left (where red and blue stickers will be placed). We also included a column for related organizations for each issue.
- The second is called "Strengths" and will be filled in by the congregation
- The third lists the three phases shown above, with room to write under each
1. Prayer, Scripture and Welcome
We started in song and bible study, tying the text we read to the context of our meeting that day. I invited participants to share one word or phrase that captured how they were feeling. If your congregation needs to process more, you could spend more time here, do journaling or an activity, or go into small groups.
I've found it helpful to ask my congregants to focus on their experiences and feelings, and try not to go into opinions in these conversations.
2. Concerns and Connections
- Congregants are given time to respond to questions 1&2 on their reflections sheets:
- 1. What are your greatest concerns about this time in our nation’s history?
- 2. What issue do you feel most connected to?
(Reproductive Rights, Environmental Justice, Racial Justice, Immigrant Rights, Refugee Protection, Muslim Rights, Protection of Civil Liberties)
- Congregants are invited to come forward to the paper labled "What We're Concerned About," and place a red sticker in the column to the left of the issue they're most concerned about, and a blue sticker in the column to the right of the issue they feel most connected to.
- Then we took a moment to notice where most of the stickers are and have a short discussion
3. What We Have To Offer
- Congregants are given time to respond to questions 3,4&5 on their reflection sheets:
- What gifts has God given you?
- What special skills do you have to contribute? (Foreign language, graphic design, web development, teaching, leadership, willing to get out and flier, go door to door, etc.)
- Do you feel able to give time, money, or both?
- Small Group Discussion: discuss your responses to questions 1-4 in a group of three
4. Where Are We?
Here, I gave a little State of the Union about what I'm seeing and hearing from organizers I've connected with. I spoke about how important decision making on the state and city level will be over the next few years, and gave an update about the work Faith In New York (the organizing group we work with) is doing.
I also spoke of the importance of resisting the normalization of hate-based practices and policies, and of speaking up loudly and early. I reminded the congregation that calling our representatives really does make a difference.
5. What are Our Strengths and Gifts as a Congregation?
- On the sheet marked "Strengths," we wrote down all the things our congregation has to offer. What we're good at!
- We used this as the starting place for discussing our response. Rather than starting from scratch, we want to build on the things we already do well.
6. How Will We Respond?
Here, I used the Three Phase sheet of paper to lead a discussion about how our congregation can be involved. Some of the phases were already filled in with ideas, others were more open so we could discuss them. We talked about a lot of ideas, and the conversation flowed fairly openly. I wrote down the congregation's ideas on the sheet of paper as we went. Here's how things worked for us, phase by phase. Your sheet might look a little different, but I think the three phases apply in almost any context!
Phase One: Say a loud "No" to hate-based/discriminatory practices and policies, and resist normalization!
- This phase is our first line of defense, the simplest, and the most immediate.
- We listed:
- Regular calls to representatives
- Resisting normalization in the media by writing letters and emails
Phase Two: Protect and Stand with the Vulnerable
- Here I had listed a number of particular, local opportunities for our congregation to stand with vulnerable people. They included things like becoming a Sanctuary Church or working with the Sanctuary Movement, building relationships with Muslim communities, and standing with Black Lives Matter (which is under attack in the new administration).
- We laid out all the possibilities, then chose the avenues that made the best use of our strengths and that we felt most connected to.
Phase Three: Build Relationships Across Boundaries for Change
- Our congregants were keenly aware of the divisions in our nation and noted how apparent it became after the election that they are living in a "bubble" in New York.
- We asked, "how can we connect honestly with other congregations across the political divide, while still holding fast to our moral convictions?
- This will be the longest-term part of our work, but our congregation feels called to reach out to evangelical churches and churches within our Lutheran denomination to do relationship building for the purpose of justice making.
- What would this look like in your congregation and in your context?
What Are You Committing to Do?
- Congregants are given time to fill out the pledge sheet (the last page of their reflection sheet)
- If you like, you could have congregants write their commitments on a sheet of paper on the wall, or place them on sheet of colorful paper in a bowl, or something else celebratory!
Sing A Song!
- Sing a song of celebration, say a prayer, say thank you for coming.
A Time for Action
- We ended our meeting with an open time for various actions. We had stations throughout the room where congregants could
- Phone their representatives
- Make a pledge to the church
- Make signs for the next day's protest
- contribute quotes and photographs to a fundraising project
- Those were our ideas, but you could do many different things!
- Have a iPads where folks can make donations to different organizations
- Have a letter writing station
- Make a banner for the front of your church
- Distribute fliers for a meeting in the neighborhood
- Send everyone home with a blessing.