The Common Good
July-August 1998

Building Common Ground

by Duane Shank, Carol Fennelly | July-August 1998

What is a Call to Renewal Roundtable?

One of the most important goals of the Call to Renewal is to unite Christians who traditionally have not worked together, on the issue of poverty. We are using the metaphor of a "roundtable" to describe a new partnership. These local roundtables are not a new organization, but a table that can bring people together for common action.

Organizing these local roundtables is a central part of the development of the Call to Renewal network. It is an opportunity to build new relationships and connections, to engage in vital discussion about the church’s responsibility to the poor. It is a chance to discover new ideas, to explore common ground, and to profile some of the best faith-based programs in the community. An active roundtable can strengthen the voice and impact of the churches in the debate and process of welfare reform in their community and in the deeper biblical mission of overcoming poverty in our society.

Bringing together the right people for planning a roundtable is critical to its success. Representatives from the key Call to Renewal constituency groups—evangelicals, Catholics, historic black churches, Pentecostal, and mainline Protestant—should form the core of the table. Service providers, advocacy groups, local officials, and the business community then round it out.

In many communities, some of these groups already meet together; in very few are they all together. Call to Renewal is becoming the opportunity and the catalyst to bring together a full table. These new multisector partnerships working together can make a significant difference in most communities.

It is important to identify someone who will act as a convener of the roundtable. This person should be someone well respected in the community who is able to transcend the barriers and help to bring the various sectors together.

A FIRST meeting of the local table can begin by focusing on the areas of principles, practices, and policies, allowing for concrete discussion around real issues.

Some simple ground rules can help create a productive discussion:

  • stick to the issues
  • take each other at his or her word
  • draw each other out in conversation
  • listen prayerfully for common ground, for where God may be leading.

Principles

. Prayerfully look at the basic principles of faith that unite the various representatives around the table. For instance, the biblical mandate to serve the poor is a principle that almost all Christians can agree upon. The need for just societal policies is reflected throughout the scriptures.

Practices

. In the second section, discuss practices or programs that can serve as a rallying point for everyone. Look for programs that can bring people together. It may be a need for child care, job readiness training, or youth mentoring that can unite a community.

Policies

. Finally, discuss how these needs can be facilitated by new or modified public policies. In many places, local and state governments are still developing the implementation of various programs in partnership with faith-based non-profits. A unified voice from the religious community can have an impact on the decision-making process.

During the discussion of each section, the goal is to find places where everyone, or most everyone can agree. If possible, try to find a common action agenda, however minimal it might be. A first step, even if small, can help to build trust and working relationships that can lead to larger steps.

Following each meeting, a summary of what was discussed and agreed to can be used as an invitation to bring additional people to the table. Focus in particular on those sectors still not present.

Call to Renewal Roundtables now exist in 30 cities, with others in various stages of formation. The Call to Renewal national office and field organizer can be helpful in bringing together the people in a community who represent key constituency groups and can share information about what is working in other parts of the country. Please feel free to call on us for assistance.

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Write Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; call (202) 328-8842; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail Call_to_Renewal@convene. com or see the Call to Renewal home page at www.calltorenewal.com

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