Left Justified: Ideas for doing urban ministries

I am asked to speak to a number of churches. I work for Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM), and people want to know how it works, especially if they give money. Well, it works miraculously! In my 24 years, I have seen miracles occur constantly, usually when you least expect it and when I have given up hope.

Don’t get me wrong, planning is important. But stepping out in faith, believing that it is the right thing to do, and then doing something is part of my faith as a Christian. And it seems to work.

Setting up a food pantry, rehabbing a former liquor store into a fair trade outlet, fighting against a polluter or casino, or any other “do-gooder” stuff takes time and effort. But, I think it takes a whole lot of love and grace. That’s part of my job.

I’ll be speaking about my job at 6 p.m., next Wednesday, July 29, at Hilltop Ministries, 8301 Mitchell Road, Machesney Park. You are welcome to join us, and bring your good ideas for doing ministry!

Here are some of the ideas I’ve picked up over my 25 years:

If you feel called by God to make life better on this planet, to right some wrong or support some effort large or small, then you are a minister. Instead of feeling frustrated in front of the television set, try to:

1. Pray openly about an issue. If you are concerned about something, say a prayer. If you are called, say a prayer in public. Try to express your concern in a positive manner. The world doesn’t want you to act, it wants you to shop, so God bless the social justice activist! Prayer should be said loudly and often.

2. Find like-minded friends. These won’t be your real friends (in fact, your real friends will think you’re crazy).

3. Find people who are working on the same issue. And there’s always people working and praying about the same issue, and they’ve probably won a few battles! It’s nice not having to reinvent the wheel and to hear some success stories.

4. A good organizer keeps track of supporters’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and whatever else comes down the pike. Build that list.

5. Find who’s in charge. Who can help you achieve your goal? Want to start a food pantry, then talk to grocery store owners. Concerned about a source of pollution? Find the bureaucrat in charge. Don’t demonize them, for often they are as concerned as you. Using kind words and a slice of Methodist pie often helps.

6. Use resources like your church mission judicatory, your bishop’s office, libraries and the Internet to educate yourself and find national organizations that will support you.

7. Bring in speakers—outside preachers, agitators and experts who will enlighten and educate the community as well as the officials.

8. Use the media. Make a list of every outlet and try to get personal with the reporters. They are all overworked, and appreciate it when someone writes an articulate story for them to use.

9. Money is no object, but you have to ask for it.

10. Get a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order and learn its spirit.

11. Celebrate your victories. Use any excuse to have a party, sing some songs and reflect. Try not to treat people on the other side as “the enemy.”

And finally,

12. Never say no to somebody else’s issue. There are many reasons why NOT to do something. We are called to act, and the devil makes us afraid. Overcome that fear and bring God’s message of love into the world. Encourage people to get up from their television sets and make the world a better place.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the July 22-28, 2009, issue

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