There is always so much to do, and no matter how hard I work I so often feel like I am not making any progress. The church remains too small and too marginal, continuing to decline in value as an institution that supports individuals and families in finding their way to wholeness and helping to build a better world.
Sound familiar? Well, the Seabury Community Organizing class has given me the tools I need to move beyond both of these statements—to transform my work as a leader, the church’s position as an institution, and hopefully the quality of life in the communities we serve.
It’s tempting to complain about the decline of the church and the increasing disconnect between congregations and the needs of the world around them. Now I have a new understanding of power and the potential for building powerful people and institutions through focusing on building relationships, one person at a time.
Community organizing seems simple, and in many ways it is. But it is deceptively difficult and surprisingly important for the church. This class has helped me, in ways I am only beginning to comprehend, to understand how people think about power and politics, what power and politics are really about and the many ways that we distract ourselves with unhelpful work. It has also helped me remember our potential for being truly effective if we can focus on useful work.
The most important change I expect in my ministry is a renewed and much better focused emphasis on building relationships through one-to-one meetings. As a pastor, I have always valued meeting with people to listen and learn their passions and interests. But with so many maintenance tasks clamoring for attention and offering seemingly easy solutions, I have neglected this critical tool. As I put one-to-one meetings back at the top of my priority list, I also expect to use what I learned in this class to be much more efficient and effective in deciding who to meet with and how to conduct these meetings.
As I build these relationships I will also be looking for ways to help the people I work with to understand the tension between the world as it is and the world as it should be, the proper role of political activity in negotiating that tension, and the vocation of the church in leading this kind of work. So many people feel that the church has no business in politics and that our job is to hold up a hopeful vision of a perfect life after death (and complain about the present reality). In fact, the church’s job is not only to proclaim the Good News of the life of the age to come, but also to organize people to work toward a better world, on earth as in heaven, and provide a place where diverse people can safely engage in challenging conversation, learning by listening, building power through joining interests and taking positive action for the common good.
I realized at the end of this class that, while there is a great deal of work involved with building the world as it should be, there is also a great deal of energy among people of faith and good will—which is to say, most people. That energy—that power, that ability to act— just needs to be organized and focused.
I am looking forward to disorganizing my work life and reorganizing it around listening, analyzing, building relationships, taking action, evaluating and teaching these principles to the leaders and potential leaders around me. I hope this will help disorganize a church that is too small and marginal and reorganize it as a powerful tool for bringing all sorts of people together to understand their interests and the needs of the world around them, to get excited about the potential for working together, and to build more and more powerful relationships, one person at a time, as we actively work to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The Rev. Steve Godfrey, Rector
St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Des Plaines, Illinois