The Social Justice Committee and Church Council have been in dialogue this summer about moving forward with a new structure for how the St Luke’s community can live out our collective call to “act with justice and righteousness” (Jeremiah 22:3).
The Social Justice Committee has had various projects and emphases over the course of its history, and has been flexible in lifting up the gifts of participants in responding to needs of our community. Most recently, the committee’s main project has been selecting the organizations to receive our monthly social justice offerings.
While the financial support that we have been able to provide these organizations has undoubtedly had an impact on the communities they serve, we recognize that there are some inherent challenges with this approach. The offering amounts vary widely depending on the attendance and whether people remember to bring cash on the first Sunday of the month. We acknowledge that the impact that our relatively small one-time donations can have on larger, more established justice organizations is less profound than the support it can provide to smaller, grassroots organizations. In spite of the committee’s efforts to choose causes that relate to current events (for example, choosing an organization addressing LGBTQ issues for Pride month in June), the selection seems arbitrary and lacking in input from the congregation.
More importantly, we wish to consider the difference between charity and justice as it relates to our efforts. Charity is responding to immediate needs and alleviating the effects of systemic oppression. Justice addresses the root causes of the problem and seeks long-term change change through public, collective action.
Some of the organizations we have supported with the offering advocate for systemic changes, and others offer direct support to people in crises. Numerous stories throughout scripture indicate that we are to practice both charity and justice in embodying God’s love in the world – we are to bandage the wounds of the Samaritan on the side of the road just as we are to go to Pharaoh and demand that the enslaved be freed. Yet, we must confront the reality that we are a small congregation with limited resources. How can we be the best stewards of our time, energy, and resources as we bring God’s love to the brokenness of the world? How can we walk alongside our downtrodden neighbors who need systemic change, rather than just throwing money at the world’s problems?
The undefined time frame of working on a committee such as “the Social Justice Committee” is not appealing for many people in our congregation who are already busy pursuing justice work in their personal and professional lives. Every week in worship we hear of God’s love and compassion for humanity proclaimed in the Gospel and preached in a sermon; we feel that it should not be only a select few who take on this vocation on behalf of the rest of the church. An approach that invites new people along on this journey is more equitable and sustaining.
We will be moving away from the committee structure in light of these reflections. Instead, the Council will support members of the St. Luke’s community in organizing multi-month “campaigns” or “initiatives” on particular issues.
These initiatives will initially be led by a few members of the current Social Justice Committee who invite others from the congregation to join them, with the idea that each initiative rotates volunteers.
The time-frame of these campaigns will be approximately 6 months.This longer term approach allows us to build relationships with the organizations we are supporting, educate our congregation about the issues, provide opportunities for volunteering, and cultivate significant financial support, while also having a definitive end point for people to focus their energies. We can also bring our initiatives to the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance for additional support, or build our work off of their efforts. A special offering will still be collected on the first of the month; however, all are invited to give of their time and financial resources at anytime throughout the initiative.
For our first trial run of this approach, we are partnering with the Center for Changing Lives to address economic injustice. This social services organization works right in our neighborhood on economic empowerment for our neighbors through financial and employment coaching. In addition to offering financial coaching to their clients, CCL offers this coaching to community members through their “Just Financials” program, which helps people align their values with their financial decisions. St. Luke’s will host these educational workshops this fall, which will be valuable for individuals as well as collective questions of financial stewardship relating to the sale of our building and transition to a permanent space.
Anyone who has an idea or social justice issue that could use the support of our church is invited to collaborate with Council and others in our congregation to put their idea into action for the next initiative.
We feel excited and energized by the possibilities that are emerging as St. Luke’s reorients its ministry in a new space. We look forward to continuing the conversation around social justice.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact: