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Church Power!

by Kendall Clark Baker 11-27-2012
Building community and clout through congregation-based organizing.

In any genuine community ... self-interest and public interest are not at odds, but are two names for the same thing. —Andrew Delbanco

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING has been around for a long time—certainly long before 2008, when it became a household word during Barack Obama's rise to the presidency. Not that it is understood nowadays any more than before.

I thought I knew what community organizing was when I served as the pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ and was introduced to a newly formed faith-based organizing project called Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) in San Bernardino, California. But I soon learned that community organizing had a different starting point, as well as a different methodology, than I thought.

As a pastor, I had always been concerned about challenging injustice. However, I came to understand that community organizing is less about taking on yet another good cause and more about the important work of building human community.

As such, community organizing is a perfect fit for religious congregations and clergy. It addresses social justice concerns in the larger community, putting democracy to work by giving voice to ordinary families. But more important, community organizing can strengthen the life of the congregation. And it can bring power to the vocation of the religious leader.