Off the Pews: Faith in Action is an affiliated ministry of the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ. The following is an update on its progress in year five.
Living in the Present, Learning from the Past While Planning for the Future
OTP was designed as a faith-based intergenerational social justice ministry by Cluster Six. This call for action was intended to address violence and the resulting trauma that is a direct result of several systemic challenges in the community: racism, poverty and undertreated psychological and physical problems that exist in several underserved communities. Needless to say, this mission continues to be lofty. Yet, there are indicators that the outcome, albeit slow, is worth the effort.
Each year we evaluate challenges and opportunities for growth. Year five proves to be somewhat different, because of anticipated significant changes in leadership in the Association and the conference. Change often means spending time establishing relationships and renegotiating priorities. OTP added an official board structure to the organization in November 2018. Prior to this the planning was conducted by a leadership team. Thus, among other questions that may arise in 2020 are the following:
What “fruit” does OTP’s labor bear?
Has its impact in the community proven that it is worthy of being identified as a ministry? In other words, is the mission viable?
How do we make a meaningful impact on an environment with limited human and financial resources?
Is OTP finding ways to fund the mission in spite of the number of individuals/churches/faith and community-based organizations willing to collaborate as oppose to compete for the limited resources?
The problems, although more visibly impactful in urban areas, crosses denominations, cultures and social-economic borders because it is deeply rooted into the soil of the society.
Although OTP has its own 501c3 status for fundraising purposes, it has intentionally chosen to be undergirded by the beliefs of the UCC. Most importantly, the public acknowledgement of the marriage between faith and justice is the best rationale for OTP’s approach to chipping away at these systemic challenges. A model for change is the path followed. The strategies are built on the assumption that inviting a person to learn to share whatever gifts s/he may have results in an exponential increase for all involved.
More so than having money is the opportunities to share human resources. This allows the community to do more with less. OTP has eight community partners. These relationships include ministries (Sunshine Gospel Ministries—afterschool program and the Tie that Binds Ministries—which awards academic scholarships), major medical centers (UC Medicine, Advocate Aurora Health System) and community-based organizations (Hyde Park Art Center). They provide free space, workshop facilitators and opportunity to engage in dialogue that reduce the ever-present threat of isolation silos.
Providing programs that attract between 15 to 25 adults has been without difficulty in several UCC congregations. However, recruiting youth in churches with a largely older population continues to be a challenge. The most significant asset to materialize in 2019 has been partnering with a community-based ministry (Sunshine Gospel Ministries). They have access to youth who live in the communities served by OTP, and OTP has programs that expand Sunshine’s afterschool curriculum, e.g., financial literacy, investment club, and “ShopTalk”—a simulated barber and nail salon program. In the midst of getting a ShopTalk free haircut (males) and manicure (females), the youth in separate spaces engage in discussions focused on coming into manhood/womanhood. This was a widely requested workshop by middle school boys.
Feel free to join the dialogue!