The New Northeast

tracking the Spirit in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine

Faith-based community organizing takes root in central Maine

by the Rev. Ann Kidder

Participants practice one-to-one meetings, a cornerstone of community organizing. Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

Participants at the St. Patrick’s session practice one-to-one meetings, a cornerstone of community organizing. Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

For the past year and a half St. Patrick’s, Brewer, has engaged in Bishop Steve’s call for Holy Conversations through participation in Faith Linking In Action (FLIA). FLIA is the outcome of a conversation begun in November of 2012 at the offices of Food AND Medicine in Brewer. Individuals from more than 20 different faith communities as well as representatives from a number of civic and social service organizations present at that first meeting agreed that our congregations and agencies were already very involved in programs to directly support people in need and that, even if we were all acting at full capacity, we could not come close to meeting the need in our region. We discussed two general directions our group could go in:

1. Working to better coordinate programs that directly meet peoples’ needs – as one person expressed it, “to pull people who are drowning out of the river”
2. Working to support people in taking leadership in overcoming their own poverty so there are fewer unemployed, hungry, struggling people in our region ten years from now– to “go upstream and fix what causes people to fall into the river.”

In February of 2013 we agreed to explore why the needs of our communities were so great and, if possible, to find ways to bring about systemic change. Over the next three months we began to learn about a process called “faith-based community organizing” as developed and practiced by PICO (People Improving Communities Through Organizing). PICO is a national network of federations of faith-based organizations. In PICO, congregations decide to form an ongoing alliance to build relationships and “go upstream” to address the problems in their communities. The process begins with intentional one-to-one meetings with hundreds of community members to listen to their life experiences and challenges. Through these “listening campaigns” a larger picture of the community’s challenges, hopes, dreams, and needs begins to emerge. At the same time, through these deep one-to-one conversations, powerful relationships are being built among members of the community across the many social and economic barriers that typically divide us. As individuals find their voice in the telling of their stories, they also discover their own potential as community leaders.

St. Patrick's, Brewer, welcomed people from more than 20 faith communities and civic organizations to learn how to identify and combat community problems 'upstream." Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

St. Patrick’s, Brewer, welcomed people from more than 20 faith communities and civic organizations to learn how to identify and combat community problems ‘upstream.” Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

By June of 2013 FLIA members committed themselves to “going upstream” using PICO’s faith-based approach and six members of FLIA attended PICO’s National Leadership Training, including the Rev. Ann Kidder and Ms Mary Ann Perry from St. Patrick’s, Brewer. Over the winter FLIA members focused on the details of preparing for a regional Listening Campaign. On March 1 St. Patrick’s, Brewer, hosted Faith Linking In Action’s day of Listening Team training, kicking off a three month Listening Campaign.

On Saturday, May 3rd, there will be a Listening Campaign Wrap-up Gathering at First United Methodist Church, 703 Essex Street, Bangor. We will share what we’ve heard in our one-to-one’s, welcome new leaders we’ve identified, and plan next steps to address the concerns that have surfaced through our listening. This is an open meeting and all are welcome. Please RSVP to Martin Chartrand martin@foodandmedicine.org if you would like to attend and learn more about this work.

For more information about faith-based community organizing visit PICO’s website at www.piconetwork.org.

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