I attended a gathering last night with persons from other churches and nonprofits to talk about community organizing. A persons with knowledge and experience led our discussion who traveled from Minneapolis and works for the Lutheran denomination in Chicago. I enjoy ecumenical groups. The more diverse the more I learn. This is a topic that I have only watched from a distance but it appears to be an area that Christ wants me to know more intimately. This morning while reading the chapter on agency in the Leading Causes of Life the conversation from last night continued only with different voices. Examples of agency helped to further clarify a connection to an inner passion that God has developed in me over a lifetime that I sometimes label as “power imbalances.” One group or individual holds power over another and abuses their power by holding agency that rightly belongs to the person or group they have power over. It is the opposite of the concept of democracy.
I wrestle with the balance of leadership, vision and voice, however. Not because I question the importance of each having voice and the agency that comes from having voice. We talked last night about a continuum that begins with prayer and leading to community organizing while passing through charity (direct service), activism, mobilization, advocacy and community development. All are important and more attention may be needed on one activity over another. Ultimately a healthy community has empowered neighbors with agency which is one of the “leading causes of life.”
One example emerged for me. We give out a lot of bottled water at Asbury. An environmental castrophy at the very least. But also a issue of agency. As long as persons in our community depend on Asbury to get bottle water (or any other group) there is a power imbalance. This creates tension if we are unable to deliver the water. What might agency look like in this case? One path is through the use of water filters as an alternative to bottled water. This will take time. Water filter education is important and there may still be a dependency on replacement filters. Nevertheless, this illustration is still relevant. If I can turn on my tap and produce water that is good to drink I have agency. This does not eliminate our need for one another. Agency is not about isolation and complete independence. Agency is about having the power to take action to rememndy a need.
What are some ways that Asbury can help organize our community – to empower our neighbors with agency?