Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Notes on “Church-Based Organizing”

Posted by John Montgomery on September 13, 2008

Jim Wallis has called on McCain’s VP choice to apologize to the many good people (community organizers) she smeared last Wednesday night in her speech at the Republican National Convention.  Similar calls are being made to Rudi Guliani related to his remarks as well. A week ago, a Google search on Obama and Community Organizing would yield minimum results. The same search tonight revealed how intense the discussion has become.

Pastor Bob Cornwell asked the question as to whether Jesus himself might be seen as a sort of community organizer and one startling comment on his blog reminds us that Pilate was a governor! In a previous thread, I shared a link to a paper written in 1990 by Obama himself outlining work he had done in Chicago from 1985 to 1988. He didn’t just get articulate during the last couple of years and this paper is well worth the read if you want to understand effective change and where Obama is coming from. Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City

If you will, I would like to share several links.

Organizing people for change is a grand tradition in the history of the United States certainly dating back to union work and then later the projects formed by Saul Alinsky and his staff at the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). The civil rights movement, especially under King and the SCLC was community organizing at its best.

In the 1980s, a whole new chapter, Church-based Community Organizing, was being written as persons like Ernie Cortez at IAF in Texas , Gregory Galluzzo at Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago,  John Calkins with Direct Action and Research Training (DART) in Florida and John Baumann with PICO in the western US all who began to create “organizations of organizations” to bring congregations together to make a difference in their communities.. Today there are well over a thousand such organizations making a real difference in the lives of people we serve.

There are lots of resources available. Perhaps the best is Greg Pierce, Activism the Makes Sense. More recently, Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing<!–[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]–><!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–> by Dennis Jacobsen (Fortress Press, 2001)

In the 80s, Bill Ramsden and I through ICUIS studied the question of not just how church-based community organizing makes a difference in the communities the churches serve, but how it indirectly serves to revitalizes the congregations (many transitional) involved.

Cornwell floated a balloon of the image of the pastor an organizer. Might the model of “pastor as organizer” function far more effectively to integrate the varied tasks clergy face in their ministry – like preaching, counseling, board meetings, hospital visits, potlucks and all – more than current “pastor as administrator models.”

Growing up a PK, my memories of my father at work had to do with the hard but imprtant work of pastoral visits. The traditional community organizing tactic of “one on ones” can perhaps redefine the best of pastoral ministry giving us an image that is less focused on being some sort of charismatic leader and more focused on being there for one’s flock.


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