In August 2007, a number of people joined together to form St Luke’s justice group. I’d like to offer an outline of this group experience during the last 15 months. Hopefully this will highlight some ways forward and provide some encouragement to others who might sense the call to begin a justice group in their own faith community.
Who we are…. St Luke’s Justice Group is a small and energetic group gathered around an understanding that faith and justice are integrated and, as such, that justice is core to following Jesus. Our group is a good cross section of ages, backgrounds, skills and interests.
Our mission…. We seek to offer our church and the wider community opportunities to explore what it means to live out justice in our relationships with all people and with all God’s creation.
The idea for SLJG emerged from conversations on the way home from a Presbytery Justice Committee meeting spent setting our vision and goals. The committee had already started a process of identifying a person within each congregation to be a justice advocate. However, it also seemed important to bring some of the committee’s issues and concerns to our local congregation by means of a small group of people who were willing to explore practical ways of integrating justice and faith. I agreed to initiate and convene a group, and to this end put a notice in our church’s news sheet which read something like:
Are you someone who is looking for ways to integrate faith and justice in your daily life and the life of our church? It is hoped that a new St Luke’s Justice Group will be a means of encouraging and equipping our congregation to be involved in specific, simple and practical justice actions (eg ‘greening the church’). So what’s next? First, come along to a brief meeting on Sunday 26 August in the gathering area after each service. This is an opportunity to share ideas and questions about how such a group might work. If you are interested but can’t make either of those times, please call or email me and let me know your thoughts. (phone and email contact details).
Alongside this open invitation, I approached several people with whom I had enjoyed good ‘justice’ conversations. Between these specific and general approaches, we formed a group of 8-9 people – a balance of gender and ages ranging from 19-90ish. Membership of the group has remained consistent with an extra person or two dropping by to check out what we are doing. A number of others expressed their support for the group and, whilst unable to commit to another activity, were keen to be on an e-list.
We agreed to meet early evenings with a time frame of 1 1/2 hours. Our first session got underway with each person sharing the justice issues that she/he was most involved in and passionate about. I was impressed and moved by the depth of enthusiasm and lament expressed by each person as we voiced concerns about indigenous health, environmental degradation, water wastage, asylum seeker and refugee policy, state-sanctioned violence, unemployment and poverty as structural injustice, and majority world debt. Where would we begin? In order to launch with an accessible and practical project we agreed to start with ‘greening the church’.
Since formation these are some of the things we have worked on:
- Coordination of a justice stall at St Luke’s Church Carnival 2007/2008, with themes of eco-justice, fair trade and ethical consumption. The stalls attracted strong interest with many people stopping by to chat about the issues, take literature and purchase tea, coffee, chocolate and fresh garden herbs donated in abundance by members of congregation. This year we were partnered by Enviro Saver consultants. We used props (toy penguin in a bowl of oily water and large stuffed toys wearing Fairtrade T-shirts) and a video loop highlighting justice messages and images.
- Incorporation of Fairtrade coffee into regular Sunday morning tea and supper and setting up an account Tradewinds to purchase fair trade goods for sale and use within congregation.
- ‘Fairtrade Survey’ with congregation over 2 weeks. This reflected overall support of Fairtrade project. Several concerns were noted primarily about how use of plungers posed difficulties for some helpers on morning tea roster. We responded to these concerns in a peaceable and cooperative manner and in consultation with the Mission Commission.
- Commencement of sustainable and native based beautification of church gardens and monitoring of Landcare registered gravel ridge.
- Beginning stages of exploring opportunities to connect with public housing residents in Belmont Nth.
- Liaison with local Baptist Catalyst Groups around Fairtrade and UN Millennium Development Goals. This included one of our group members being part of an advocacy team meeting with local Federal Member.
- ‘Ethical gift’ promotion Nov/Dec each year using TEAR, UIM, Oxfam, NI catalogues and fair trade products.
The group has worked well and has maintained momentum despite each member being very busy with a range of work, study, family and volunteer-related commitments. Here are some thoughts on what works well and what can be challenges.
- Avoid committee structures and processes - someone take notes rather than minutes. Short meetings also appreciated.
- Encourage all members to gain confidence in articulating their understanding of justice as integral to gospel and discipleship. Reflection/devotion element was recently introduced to balance and underpin the practical tasks.
- Vary communication using email, phone and face-to-face.
- There are advantages to having a small core group such as flexibility and capacity for rapid response to urgent issues.
- Be clear as possible on justice and welfare dimensions. Theologically I don’t go in for dichotomies and prefer and/both to either/or. However, some boundaries around purpose can protect a group and its members from burnout. For example, with the concern for homelessness ought we focus on advocacy for structural change or use our energy in practical assistance? Both responses are important but what should a ‘justice’ group have as its particular priority?
- Allow special interests to be pursued outside regular group meetings. One member has taken the sustainable garden project on to become a more general beautification process that draws in people from the wider congregation. It originated from and remains under the auspices of the justice group but does not need the involvement of all members.
- Since justice projects work best as ecumenical and inter-faith ventures, it is important to network with other groups. Baptist Catalyst groups, Jubilee congregations, Al Ghazzali Centre, Affinity Foundation, World Vision and Micah Challenge are all possibilities, just for a start.
- Keep the group engaged with the congregation and use church newsletter to share information and good news stories.
- If a justice issue the group deems highly significant has previously met with a negative response (in our case fair trade) try to identify new approaches and keep dialogue open and respectful.
- Keep encouraging each other and celebrate what God is already doing in the world God loves!
If you would like any further information or have any questions, please contact me by email kimeba at gmail.com.