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Chapel, GilChrist Retreat Center, Three Rivers, MI, USA (Photo by Martha Daniels)

A new year, a new month–a time for the traditional review of the past and a look ahead to the future, for resolutions and hopes and goals and plans. Time for a look back at what we’ve done and what we want to do in the coming year(s).

Time for a fresh start, to reexamine what we are (not) doing, and what we hope to do in the new year.

How? Some suggestions:

1) Take a clear-eyed look at the past year. What social justice work had you planned to be involved with, and did so? What never quite happened, and why?

2) Take a day to study and think about your community–because that’s the best place to begin working for social justice.

  • What are the needs in your congregation? Affordable child care? Better schools? Anti-racism work? Health care support?
  • What about your neighborhood and the schools? Your city or region? What are the social justice issues or questions crying out for your voice–affordable transportation? Support for people who are unhoused? Bail reform? Food availability? Literacy? Employment?

3) How have you and your congregation/agency been involved in those issues you’ve identified? If you haven’t been, do you have the capacity and resources to become involved? Even if your congregation can’t, can you, personally? Are any of the issues you’ve identified something that your congregation has included in their mission statement? Are there members who would be interested in the work?

4) Connect with other churches, non-profits, and organizations who are already doing the work or interested in it. There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel. Your local clergy group, agency on aging, social services agency, or mental health agency may already have something in place you can connect with and support. Think outside the box, too–the agency on aging may have great resources on available affordable housing, or the mental health support group might know a lot about the local jail.

5) Think about creating a communications network for occasions when something comes up suddenly that would benefit from action on the part of the congregation–a local company is found to be releasing harmful materials into the environment, a shelter is being forced to close immediately, a flood in the basement location of a food pantry… These need immediate attention–phone calls to elected officials, letters to the paper, donations to replace what was lost, help finding a new space, etc. Your Facebook page and Twitter may not be enough–consider emails, text, or an old-fashioned telephone tree.

6) Build on what you have done already. If you have supplied backpacks and school supplies to a shelter for unhoused women and children, can you take the next step and provide tutoring or other support? I know someone who, through donations and personal hard work, provides groceries to students during the holidays for several elementary schools with high rates of subsidized/free lunches–ensuring they have enough to eat when they don’t get those lunches. It grew from one classroom, to one grade, to the whole school, to several schools in the course of four or five years.

7) Understand what you are able to do and comfortable doing. Health, finance, or mobility concerns may prevent you from participating in mass marches or protests, but you can support those who do by helping to fund bail resources if needed, drive them to carpools or train stations, create signs, put together snack bags…

8) When you do participate, whether in protests or events at community agencies or going on jail visits, wear your clergy collar (if that fits with your tradition) or wear a stole (for marches). The witness of clergy presence is powerful.

9) Include the projects or people involved in your pastoral prayers in worship.

10) Know your personal and congregational limits. This is the importance of #3 and #7. It is better to do two things well than seven poorly.  There is absolutely nothing wrong about saying, “No, we don’t do X ministry, our focus is on Y.” “For the body of Christ has many members…and all are needful,” to paraphrase Paul.

Blessings as we all discern our callings!


Martha is pastor of Holy Covenant MCC, Brookfield, IL, USA. Her pastorally political activities include prison ministry, senior support, community reconciliation, and support for the un/underhoused.


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2 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: Beginning Again

  1. Thanks for the comment that one congregation can’t be all things to all people (I am paraphrasing here). Our congregation hosts a ministry to the less fortunate one day a week. We offer vouchers to the Salvation Army shelter down the street, bus tokens, clothing, toiletries, sack lunches and social services. Each week people call or come to the church asking for assistance in paying their rent. We don’t offer that service. We don’t give out money, period. Thanks for helping me to take a deep breath and say, “We do X and Y and Z, but we don’t do what you are looking for.” (We do keep a list of other organizations they can try.)

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