In a previous article pertaining to Old First’s participation in the Leadership Assembly for POWER: An Interfaith Movement – Esther Bernard explained the January 30th Assembly and the organization’s mission of empowering congregations of different faiths in Philadelphia to develop and exercise their own power to address practically the root causes of social, political and economic problems we encounter everyday in our communities.
A number of us from Old First are exploring the possibility of expanding beyond our tradition practice of providing direct services – how we have responded to the immediate and often urgent physical, emotional and spiritual needs of others – to a model of advocacy or activism whereby we act in collaboration with people most adversely affected by social problems and injustices. This struggle for justice is rooted in our faith, and “faith without action is dead” (James 2:17).
Through our participation in this interfaith organizing effort, we are developing inter-congregational bonds based on shared values and emotional ties, and together embarking on a process of assessing needs and opportunities across our city. We are currently engaged in face-to-face “research” meetings with public officials and community leaders in an effort to define the problems that plague our communities and identify possible solutions. This phase of the organizing effort also tests and develops our own public leadership skills, and, develops relationships with community leaders and potential allies.
We are learning that our collective organizational participation offers an avenue for individual empowerment as the movement is offering a process through which our individual opinions and emotional responses can be acted upon and heard. Did you ever feel small in the kingdom of God? Do you ever feel that you can’t make a difference? When God is in charge, even one person can make a difference. We are witnessing individuals, who, through the encouragement and support of the group, have been empowered to confront and overcome their fears and reservations to participate in a process previously foreign to them. We are experiencing our efforts together as promoting our, and our fellow congregants’, opinions and values. “You see a person receives God’s approval because of what she does, not only because of what he believes (James 2:22).
We invite each of us here at Old First to engage one another in a 30 minute conversation in the effort to ascertain another member’s concerns and dreams for our community. Ask if there are things they would like to see changed, and WHY? Ask if they have ever tried to address any of the problems they have identified in the community, and if yes, what was their experience? Also, do they know other people who share their concerns?
If you and/or the persons with whom you have conversations express passion (or perhaps even pain) pertaining to a particular issue affecting our community, we invite you to join us in one of the upcoming, scheduled research meetings listed below.
Perhaps some people will be concerned that the display of political power to win commitments from public officials to solve problems affecting our community may be too controversial or is not within our mission. However, may i remind you that community organizing is not new to Old First; we were involved, even instrumental with PIA in the 90s. Recently, we concluded an examination of the heritage of Old First, led by Bob Schneider in an Adult Forum, and I learned of a legacy marked by a history of action that has involved challenge, confrontation and controversy. Isn’t action the proof of a congregation’s claim to care? Does action not often involve challenge, confrontation and controversy? I would suggest humbly that the values we say we believe in, hold and are called to stand for cannot be established without action. So a small group of us already involved invite you to join us and people from more than 30 other faith communities as we embark on a journey to bring about significant change for justice and equality in Philadelphia through a process of building trusting relationships across the lines that often divide the residents of our city. Trusting relationships especially with people that include those most impacted by injustice and social problems, community leaders and public officials, congregants of different faiths in Philadelphia; and with one another here at Old First.
UPCOMING RESEARCH MEETINGS scheduled for POWER: an Interfaith Movement:
Saturday, Feb. 26th – 9:00 am to 1:00 pm;
St. Raymond of Penafort Church – 1350 Vernon Rd., Phila, 19150
Housing/Vacant Land Team will meet with Rick Sauer of the Phila Assoc. of CDCs, Liz Hersh of Housing Alliance of PA & Wendell Pritchett of the Redevelopment Authority
Education/Youth Team will meet with Michael DiBerardinis, Recreation Commissioner
Saturday, Feb. 26th 12:45-5:30 pm
; St. Raymond of Penafort Church – 1350 Vernon Rd., Phila, 19150
Public Safety/Criminal Justice team will meet with DA Seth Williams & Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross
at 2:00pm: Healthcare/Older Adults team will meet with Kati Sipp, of Healthcare PA
Sunday, Feb. 27th 2:00 to 5:30 pm;
Sweet Union Baptist Church – 1536 N. 59th Street
Education/Youth Team will meet with Eva Gold of Research for Action & Paul Socolar of the Public School Notebook
Housing/Land Use Team: Fran Burns Commissioner of L&I
Jobs/Poverty Team will meet with Andy VanKleunen of the National Skills Coalition
March 8th – 6:00 to 8:00 pm pm;
Education/Youth Team will meet with Laura Shubilla, Philadelphia Youth Network