Growing up in a certain kind of Roman Catholic household I heard the stories of and knew, some very activist priests and bishops and nuns. My father taught some of them,since he was a professor of Applied Anthropology at the Catholic University of America. I heard the stories of the priests in the Chicago stockyards who organized and fought for the rights of those immigrant workers. I met a bishop who called out the corrupt Indonesian regime that was displacing the indigenous people of Irian Jaya at gunpoint. I met Catholic brothers, and sisters, and priests who were organizing farmers in Central and South America, creating co’ops for the sales of their goods at fair prices. It wasn’t heretical. They were friends, and they were heroes.
When I left the Roman Catholic church as an adult, I joined the progressive and activist United Church of Christ. There were men and women organizing for workers rights in California and Florida, for the renewal of blighted neighborhoods in the great cities of the rust belt, for GLBT rights, for women’s rights. This was the church I wanted to be in.
But it wasn’t my path. I was involved with youth, and theological education, and family ministry. I supported the brave men and women who put themselves in the thick of unjust situations. I knew about Archbishop Oscar Romero. I knew about William Johnson, the first ordained gay man in our denomination and in America. The archbishop was gunned down at mass. And it took a long time for Bill to receive a call to pastor after he was ordained. They were brave in their struggles.
But it wasn’t my fight.
Until I came to pastor the downtown Spokane congregation of Westminster UCC.
Here I learned to fight, here I learned to organize. Here I learned to be strategic and coordinated and yes, even aggressive. Here I learned to look beyond my congregation for allies in the trade unions, small businesses, nonprofits, schools and other congregations. Here in Spokane, through the Spokane Alliance, I learned that I could help MAKE SUBSTANTIVE CHANGE HAPPEN.
Sometimes to my deep surprise, I have been learning the strategic skills, the relational skills, the organizing skills of the Spokane Alliance, and I have found that they are important to my spiritual path. Without them, I might have fallen into despair and burnout. Without them, I might have become the caretaker of yet another dying downtown church. Community organizing with the varied membership of the Spokane Alliance has kept me alive to possibilities, deepened my self-awareness as a concerned Christian citizen of this city and this state. It has given me, through meaningful relationships with thousands of other citizens, the power and the will and the skill to make changes for the better. And I believe that would make Jesus smile.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Faith and the Democratic Process” at 9:30 a.m., March 5 at Stella’s Cafe, 917 W Broadway Ave. CastroLang is a panelist.
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