Community Organizing as Gospel

It’s been while since I’ve posted. Almost five months, actually. I could say it’s just because I’ve been busy, because it has. But really it’s because I’ve spent the last few months looking for partners in mission that will help support us financially in a mutual ministry model that I will write about on another post. Without funding I’m personally about 4 paychecks behind now so I’m not only wondering how to continue our ministry with Tapestry, I’m just wondering how I’ll pay my rent for this month.

Maybe it’s ironic that last night we hosted close to 200 people for a Tenant Meeting about the sale of a very large apartment complex (Background Info) just two blocks from us at Woodlake Lutheran Church. Pastor Fred at Woodlake and I both began to hear from tenants that they were going to have to move very quickly and that they were having trouble finding a place to live. They couldn’t meet the new requirements on the housing application. I started hearing similar stories from other community organizations who work with Latin@s, too, wondering if I knew of any resources. I didn’t, and no one else seemed to have many answers.

I thought about it, and the next day I asked Pastor Fred if we could host a Community Meeting at Woodlake. We settled on the date, Sunday, November 1st. We would invite people to the regular community meal served by Loaves & Fishes and would follow up with a Town Hall style meeting. He was all on board. Since I serve on the Board of MIRA, a non-profit in Richfield that works with the Latin@ community, I invited them. They jumped on board.

And then the Holy Spirit took this over. That’s my explanation for what happened. Because I honestly have no idea how this happened, but word started getting out. I started getting names and e-mail addresses. I sent out a few more invitations. A number of leaders of non-profit organizations that have worked a lot on housing issues jumped on board, thankful for the opportunity to join forces work with others who also advocate for affordable housing. Residents were invited and they formed part of the organizing team. Every meeting we have had since the beginning has been bilingual (Spanish/English) and multi-cultural. Talk about grass roots.

We held three planning meetings. We went doorknocking. 698 doors in five buildings, most of them in one night. There were five of us from Tapestry and Woodlake, five people from Homeline, and one from The Family Partnership.

Now let me tell you that I have never gone doorknocking like this, and the four women (two Spanish-speakers; two English-speakers) from Tapestry who accompanied us haven’t either. These powerful and brave people believed that this was important enough to take time out of their evening to share hope with their neighbors.

Now, though I have begun meeting my neighbors this summer as part of my mission development, I want to emphasize that this is NOT in my comfort zone. It did help that I had met people this summer so I felt a bit more comfortable, but my oh my! We did it and it was amazing.

We met so many people. When people would call through the door to ask who it was, I would answer, “Umm…I’m a pastor from down the street.” Sophisticated, I know. And when they opened the door, and most did, we would explain who we were, that we were people who had heard about the challenges facing the tenants who have to move, and we wanted to invite them to a community meeting about this upheaval in their lives. People who I personally invited came to the meeting!

And we heard stories:

  • One mom told us her young son was recovering from cancer treatments, and not only did they have to find a new place to live (because one of the new rules is maximum 2-person occupancy, and they are three), but they were having trouble finding affordable housing, especially in Richfield–a place that would accept children and that wouldn’t be more than they could afford after all of the costs associated with having a sick child. They are facing having to move this child to a new school district. And, the gas and water was turned off for four consecutive days, the entire day, while workers upgraded the units.
  • We have heard from residents that the new owners were out counting children as they boarded school buses in the morning to determine how many there were and from which buildings they were coming.
  • We have heard from people with Section 8 and other Voucher support that these will no longer be accepted, and there are very few options available. Some people who had finally found homes after experiencing homelessness are once again facing being out on the streets in the cold Minnesota winter.
  • We heard from many Latin@ families, and other immigrants, that they are now required to have a credit check and only a Social Security number will suffice to prove their 625 credit score.
  • We heard that people have been searching for affordable housing for their families AND THERE JUST ISN’T ANYTHING AVAILABLE TO THEM.
  • We heard that people are sad and scared and confused.

And so we listened to stories and we invited our neighbor into community and we offered a little glimpse of some hope.

We prepared for the evening with lots of wonderful volunteers. Too many, in some senses. How often does that happen?

We set up a Resource Fair:

And this happened last night:

I would guess close to 200 residents and housing advocates, along with the Mayor of Richfield, a Richfield Council Member and a Representative from the Met Council attended the meeting. We heard about what is going on and we heard people’s stories.

Many organizations joined us in the planning and implementation of the overall event and the Resource Fair. I mentioned some, but let me add others:

And the people saw that they were not alone. The church building and people that had been unnoticed for years by so many became a place of welcome and refuge. We had so many volunteers from Tapestry and Woodlake and our partner groups. People were brave and spoke up and out. We often say, and I’m sure I’ve even said it, that we want to be a voice for the voiceless. Well, let me tell you. The people we call the “voiceless” have a voice. It’s just that we don’t want to hear these voices. Alone, it’s easy to silence these voices; but bring the voices to the table and into community, and let me tell you, there is anything but silence.

Many, many people last night decided they want to work together in community to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Imagine how powerful it was for people to see and hear that people care, that people are experiencing the same thing, and that they are not alone. It was powerful for me. Talk about transformation.

Last night we were transformed from being individuals, from being siloed non-profit organizations and churches into something much more powerful. We were transformed into a community that cared about each other. How long will that last? I don’t know. Maybe a lifetime for some people. Definitely a lifetime for me.

Now, I promised with the title of this blog post that there is Gospel in Community Organizing. In case you haven’t seen it already, let me share some of the specific ways in which the Spirit was at work.

  • A gentleman that I met outside the apartments when we went doorknocking told me he would come on Sunday, and he did. I greeted him and after the meeting he asked about Tapestry and seemed to like what he heard. He was wondering about baptism.
  • Some people who have thought about coming to a Tapestry service but haven’t yet came and volunteered for hours to support the community.
  • People asked me and others about Tapestry and shared their faith stories with us just as we could share faith stories with them.
  • Woodlake and Tapestry came together in mission to reach out and welcome the community.
  • We of Tapestry are a small and merry band of regular people. This small group became a powerful voice. We all learned together about knocking on people’s doors. We learned that loving our neighbor is powerful. People of Tapestry know what discipleship is about. They led. Transformational. Life-giving. Spirit-filled.
  • A resident who had attended last night called me today to ask about Tapestry. She wondered how she might be involved in a community of faith that helps people and is in the community. She wondered if we were going to be around for awhile. (I hope so)! She told me she was in tears last night because she had thought she was all alone in her struggles.
  • We met wonderful advocates and brave people advocating for themselves and their neighbors.
  • We saw what hope and love look like.
  • We had a glimpse of the Kingdom. Oh, yes we did.
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