Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Abundance from Working Together

On May 23rd, Abundant Communities Together, Inc. (ACT), a nonprofit community development corporation  I serve as president, hosted a conference for 21st century pastors and church leaders.  The name of the conference was On Purpose: The Church in a New Economic Paradigm".   

One of the conference participants was from Bonn, Germany, and is a fundraising consultant to churches in her home country. She emailed several questions the day after the conference. The questions provided a great opportunity for me to summarize my thoughts on the day (which was a resounding success!).

Here are just a few of the questions, with my responses:

Q: Yesterday  120 people out of 48 churches attended. How many members did these churches (roughly)  represent ?
A: If you consider the fact that the Greater Allen Cathedral in New York, at 26,000 members and Redeemer Presbyterian Church has about 5,000 members, then add up all the other churches there, together we represented over 40,000 church members.  That does not count visitors or community members served by these churches (nursing homes, incarcerated persons, homebound, etc.)or persons served by soup kitchens, food pantries, outreach ministries, etc.  In that case, it is reasonable to say that these churches touch the lives of perhaps 100,000 people in this region.

Q: Can I say: churches from a wide range of denominations came- although some of the churches are "non-denominational"?- or what would be the right expression?
A: Yes.  I would say something like “churches from many denominations and non-denominational churches as well”.

Q: What would you estimate roughly: for how many % of the churches in the US  the topics you raised about church based enterprises, energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture are new ? For how many it will not yet be part of their discernment? ( I have the feeling that there are hardly any..... ??) 
A: My educated guess is that 60%-70%  of the church leaders present learned about at least one of these topics for the first time.  I would go further to say that perhaps 80% of the conference participants heard these ideas framed in a new way, i.e., as arenas for ministry, and as directly related to how the church uses its money and other financial resources to advance mission.

Q: I had the impression, that you have a very deep  understanding of community organizing ( and I have been into community organizing in Germany for many years)  - and I can very well follow your vision,  that we do not so much need to create new organizations but rather new operational infrastructure and networks to solve regional goals and objectives.     I got the impression, that most of these new initiatives were made possible because of new legislation under Obama ( tax reduction for solar energy,  American Reinvest & Recovery act ). is that right ?
A: Yes, I know organizing.  I’ve had some training in the Industrial Areas Foundation model of organizing; even worked to help start a Gamiel Foundation initiative right here on Long Island.  The great benefit of this model is the ability to mobilize hundreds and thousands of people around a cause.  However, this model relies very much on confrontation and stated demands.  Our slightly different take on organizing is that we mobilize people around goals and objectives that also involve development, investment, job creation, creating value where none is perceived, and fixing broken markets. 

You are right on target around ‘new operational infrastructure and networks to solve regional goals and objectives’ _”abundant communities together”_ i.e., when abundant communities (congregations, organized constituencies) come together to engage and transform death-dealing societal challenges like food access, food justice, energy independence, local investment and job creation, with the right information and expertise, together, we can achieve tangible successes.  These are ideas we have advocated for since 1999.  But yes, President Obama gets it, and he did fund the right kinds of initiatives to seed job creation and investment here in our country.  I’ve got nothing against other countries prospering, but renewable energy will always be a better choice for  local investment, local jobs and environmental health in the USA than either big oil or nuclear energy, for example.

What are your thoughts on these questions?  Please share your comments.