I support the nuns...

This past week I had the privilege of meeting with two representatives of the Inter-Vally Project. (check it out @ http://www.intervalleyproject.org/index.html) Project director, Ken Galdston, trained in the IAF model and holds an MA in management from Yale.  Local organizer, Wendy Krom, has worked on various North County projects and currently serves with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (@ http://n bccoalition.org/?post=wendy-krom) Two thoughts kept running through my mind as we met and discussed the possibilities of building a congregation-based community organization in this part of the state:

+ First, Ken and I know a number of the same people given that the community organization network in the US is small.  From the late Jim Drake - once of the Farm Workers and later IAF - to Frank Pearson in the Southwest it was a little family reunion of sorts. And that was reassuring because not everybody who claims to be an organizer knows what that means. There are some local organizations, for example, that talk about organizing, but seem more interested in what I would call isolated public witness.  They may engage in forums or educational events, too but this isn't organizing. There are other groups that speak about being advocates for the poor and working class, but mostly engage in self-promotion and/or fund-raising for themselves. 

The Inter-Valley Project, on the other hand, is committed to building organizations that can bring morality and social justice concerns back into the public square with a measure of clout and credibility.  And their organizing process helps local congregations mature and grow stronger, too.  Three guidelines shape this type of work:

1)  Local leaders meet to discern common interests.  No issues or ideology from above is involved, just local pastors, rabbis, women religious and immans getting together to talk and listen to one another in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  For me this is ecumenism and multi-faith dialogue that makes sense because the goal is to discover what values we share and how to advance them within and beyond our local congregations.  Many times pastors and congregations take a while to get this, but it is a foundational truth in this type of organizing:  the organizer helps local folk learn how to become effective, they don't impose issues on anyone.

2) Local congregations meet to discern what the Spirit is saying to our communities and commit to training.  Through a series of conversations, research and testing the real issues touching the lives of real people are identified.  Again, there is nothing top-down about this work.  And once the issue is named and explored, plans are developed to move from idea to implementation.  There is leadership and planning training, lessons in accountability (like the fact that if you say "I will try to do this" that is bullshit because either you will or you won't) and constant evaluation. In Cleveland I worked with organizers from the Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago on education issues and In Tucson with IAF folk on economic development concerns.  (These guys are the real deal - check them out - @ http://www.gamaliel.org/Default.aspx and http://www.industrialareas foundation.org/)  It takes time to train and build an organization, too so nothing is rushed.

3) Local folk raise and fund their own organizations so that they maintain maximum control.  Applying the wisdom of the congregational church at its best, while there is often seed money to get a project started (Campaign for Human Development, etc.) dues are a part of the drill and local fund-raising is essential. This is yet another guarantee that helps keep the effort autonomous.

In September we will hold our first regional conversation with other leaders from congregations in the area to see whether we might find a way to work together.  I am very hopeful and look to contribute on every level to this project.  That's was my first, albeit complicated thought. 

+ My second thought was this is the kind of work I have always shared with American nuns - and hope to do so again.  The Vatican is coming down hard on these women religious, but they are not taking it quietly.  Not only have they organized a bus tour to educate people about their work for social justice (http://www.groundswell-movement.org/ support-the-nuns/) but they are clearly well-prepared to offer a faithful challenge on an organizational and theological level, too.  (see NYTimes @

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/us/us-nuns-weigh-response-to-scathing-vatican-critique.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

These are the people who not only took Vatican II seriously, but they helped give it shape and form.  Even today it is one feisty nun who is spear-heading the local inter-faith group (along with a wise young rabbi!)  This has been my experience for nearly 35 years:  from nuns on the picket line with the Farm Workers, to peace activists in Saginaw, social justice and spirituality advocates in Cleveland and artists keeping the spirituality of Thomas Merton alive in Tucson, these women rock.  I just put their bumper sticker on my truck... and look forward to be an ally again in the work for true local social justice. 

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