Are We Listening?

“I could have left prison sooner if I’d had a place to live.” “We need more treatment services, both outside and inside.” “I’m afraid my son will get hurt on the way to his new school.” “I can’t get a job because of my record.” “We need to improve schools, not close them.”

Housing, services, safety, jobs, schools: problems being voiced by individuals in churches. These concerns—including issues carried over from prior years like the need for a fair income tax in Illinois—mark the beginning of an annual process that will culminate in the approval and launch of the 2014 Platform for Renewal, which shapes our work here at Community Renewal Society (CRS).

This summer Faith in Action teams, composed of leaders in each CRS church, are conducting listening campaigns by doing one-on-ones, holding house meetings, and canvassing their communities. In other words, local leaders are holding face-to-face conversations with over 1,000 individuals in their churches and neighborhoods to learn about the daily struggles of persons and families living in some of the communities most affected by the issues of racism and poverty.

Leaders share their findings with the Strategy Team, a group of key leaders elected by the membership, which collaborates with staff to analyze identified problems and commission Issue Teams to explore related campaign opportunities. The Issue Teams along with policy and organizing staff carry out research actions—talking to coalition partners, civic leaders, and government workers—to determine options for action and opportunities for collaboration.

The lssue Teams cut (shape) their identified problems into specific, winnable, and meaningful issue campaigns. Issue Teams report their recommendations back to the Strategy Team which then crafts the next year’s Platform for Renewal. Member congregations vote to approve the Platform at the Annual Membership Assembly, scheduled this year for October 5, 2013.

Here’s an example of how this multi-stepped process creates results. In 2012 the churches said they needed more employment opportunities for individuals with felony records. The FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) Issue Team identified the Illinois Sealing bill (HB 3061) as an issue for the 2013 Platform for Renewal. After months of concerted effort, the bill passed the Illinois General Assembly in May and was signed into law by the governor on August 3, 2013.

This is an exciting time! We hope that you will join us on October 5, 2013 for the Annual Membership Assembly when CRS board, staff, and member congregations gather to celebrate accomplishments and launch the new Platform for Renewal, which will direct our 2014 policy and organizing work. This is also a great time to learn more about how to become a CRS member congregation.

The purpose of congregational organizing is to strengthen churches through relationship-building, find new leaders, and identify critical issues. As we on the policy side of CRS engage in this process, we find ourselves increasingly impressed with the vitality of the member churches and the commitment they invest in a structured, spirit-filled response to the critical issues we all care about.

This is inspiring and challenging work. And, it all begins with listening.

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