“We are a busy congregation and everyone who is able to volunteer is working at capacity already. How do we take on the big question of climate justice and the call to divest from fossil fuels? This is too big an issue for us to work on; in fact, it is impossible….sorry!”
If leadership is a key block to getting work done, how about changing the whole concept of leadership from one leader who takes it on to many people sharing it? How could that happen and what would it look like? The Climate Justice Group at TSP had this same issue. Once we “fell into” a new model of leadership, we were all surprised at the energy that was released and the expertise we developed. “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”, as the song says. Read on and discover how your group, no matter its size, can take on a big issue and surprise everyone at your success!
Following a “lull” of almost two years with no work on climate justice (one of the congregation’s agreed priorities), the Church Board contracted Greg Powell, a theological student with a background in climate issues to see if the congregation could summon the energy to do more work on this. He issued a general invitation to anyone in our congregation interested in climate change/justice issues. The first questions he asked were: “Why are you here? What is your key concern about climate justice? Do you have time to do anything about it?” While all 13 of us shared a deep concern to act and quickly, most of us felt already very busy or over-committed, and no one wanted to “be the leader”. What to do?
Leadership emerged almost without our recognizing it! What were some of the steps we took that helped us overcome this block?
To help us narrow our focus, we invited members of the congregation to join us to see the movie, “Do the Math” followed by a discussion of our responses. We divided into three small groups, with each discussing a different idea as our response. We listened to the rationale of each group for that piece of work and then considered which ONE we might do. By the end of that evening, we reached consensus to join the divestment movement.
Why this worked: All of our work for the following two years was tied to that focus, thus limiting the drain on our volunteer capacities. Having all agreed on a shared set of goals, we were able to say “no” to ideas and initiatives outside this priority focus.
Anytime anyone offered to take on a task, small or large, we trusted that offer and understood that person as “taking a lead” on that part of the work. Each person went off to find out more from external sources about their “task”. From that point on, we learned from each other and began rotating responsibilities among ourselves as we each gained confidence.
Why this worked: No one took on all the work, each doing only what we felt we could do. Collectively, our energies expanded as we learned from each other, enabling us to do more!
The Climate Justice Group (CJG) meets every 4-6 weeks following the Sunday worship service. Between meetings members work individually or in small groups on particular projects–2-3 people working on an article or an event, someone working on communications, another on understanding divestment and financial options, another preparing for our meetings, different people chairing and taking notes at each meeting, or two dozen members of our congregation attending a screening of “Do the Math” or a climate march!
Why this worked: This approach contributed to the sense that the “leadership” of our group was fluid, and fostered our trust in one another to be a leader on a part of the work and to teach us what each had learned. That empowered us all!
This was a congregational priority, so, as detailed at Engage the congregation, we encouraged congregational members’ education and participation in the following ways:
- through climate justice-focused events, worship, Lenten study sessions, our church website and newsletter, and through invitations to join our meetings or participate in an event; and
- through asking members of the congregation to share their expertise with us on a particular issue – whether it was understanding divestment, pension funds, or the moral/ethical frameworks for our work.
Why this worked: Drawing on congregational members at different points and for specific projects further facilitated our shared leadership approach, and often resulted in their ongoing involvement with the CJG.
|We’re a small congregation. Can we do this?
Learn how TSP’s Climate Justice Group spread tasks among ourselves to ease the load.
|We’re committed to helping our congregation take a stand, but we’re not experts in divestment. How do we build the knowledge we need?
We share how we drew on numerous external resources to build our knowledge.
|How can we help our congregation understand the faith and justice rationales for divestment?
Explore TSP’s engagement of our broader congregational community to address climate justice.
|What is a realistic timeline for the divestment process? What do our Board and financial officers need to know?
Learn more about the key stages in TSP’s divestment and reinvestment process.
|The church across town has asked us for advice. How should we respond?
What is our role in the global climate movement?
|What are some other climate actions we can take as individuals? As a congregation?
Learn about other green initiatives at TSP.