Friday, October 24, 2008

Congregation-Based Community Organizing

The term "congregation-based community organizing" (CBCO) may still elicit blank stares, until someone says, "you know, what Obama did". Obama, following in the footsteps of Saul Alinsky, learned and practiced a form of community organizing that is not only effective, but promises to revitalize the congregations that participate in it. It certainly had an impact on Obama.
Jim Eller, minister at All Souls UU Church of Kansas City, met with the Board on to "preach the gospel" of CBCO on Thursday. It is an exciting approach that the Veatch Foundation is supporting through matching grants for churches to join and train their members. Though Unitarian Universalism has a rich tradition in social justice, congregations do not always find their efforts as effective as they might like in dealing with the underlying issues.

CBCO addresses some of the barriers to effectiveness congregations may face, such as lacking relationship within the communities they wish to impact, or assuming problems of poverty and systemic racism do not affect us. It impacts change by creating networks of religious organization, community groups, and (sometimes) unions and schools that use democratic principles to determine local priorities. The network sets up the process and trains leaders to work within it. These "leaders in training", according to Congregation-Based Community Organizing: A Social Justice Approach to Revitalizing Congregations, "learn the technical skills of organizing, including weighing alternatives, negotiating differences, and developing strategic plans. They also learn concrete skills such as clariying one's self-interest, viewing and accepting conflict, and analyzing the power dynamics of institutions." PCD congregations listed as affiliated with a formal CBCO network include the UU Church of Palo Alto, the UU Fellowship of Redwood City, the First UU Society of San Francisco, the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, and the UUs of San Mateo. I would be interested in hearing experiences from any of these congregations - just post your comment.

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