This month, Cooking Together has explored partnership, both as spiritual practice and as effective strategy. This week’s post is written by Community Ministry intern Kierstin Homblette, who highlights the collaborative work of the congregations in the Boulder Denver Cluster. –Ed.
The seven Unitarian Universalist congregations of the Boulder Denver Cluster have been intentionally moving towards greater collaboration over the last several years. They have endeavored to work together, improve communication between the congregations, and create opportunities for coordination of their events. Although this increasing collaboration exists in many areas of congregational life, over the last year, one of the most exciting developments has been in the arena of immigration justice.
In November 2011 people from the seven congregations who were working on immigrant justice met and shared the goings-on in their congregation and in their immigration-focused groups. Several congregations already had established groups meeting regularly and working in partnership with community organizations, and representatives from these congregations were able to share how they got started, some of their recent successes, and some best practices that had been working for them. Congregations new to the issue and with groups still in formation were able to learn from the more established groups and collect ideas to take back with them to their congregations. At the meeting, we established an immigration-focused Google Group for the cluster, so leaders from each congregation could communicate with the other, share events and announcements, and work on cross-congregation collaboration. It was an exciting evening, with many ideas generated and much energy around working together as a cluster on this justice issue.
Following the meeting, the Google Group grew and leaders began using it to communicate, not only about goings-on in their groups but also in the Boulder-Denver area. There are many organizations in our area working on issues of immigration justice, and the cluster of congregations was able to pool their knowledge about these organizations and begin to create accountable community partnerships, as well as send members to attend events as a cluster group. New immigration groups formed in several of the cluster congregations and began collaborating with the more seasoned groups. Energy grew exponentially in the cluster around immigration!
In February 2012, one of the newer immigration groups decided to adapt materials from the UUA’s Immigration as a Moral Issue curriculum to create a five-week immigration series. The goals were to educate members of their congregation on issues of immigration justice, to encourage people to connect personally and theologically with the issue, and to support deeper reflection and investment within the congregation. But instead of offering the series only to members of their congregation, they advertised the series to the entire cluster via the Google Group. And an amazing thing happened! Several of the other congregations, who had been contemplating running educational series of their own, decided instead to send members to attend this series.. It was an exciting development and a new level of collaboration for the cluster. Members of four congregations attended the five-week series, learning and growing together, as well as creating relationships of greater depth between members of different congregations. Members of each congregation took their learnings and the resources distributed through the class back to their separate immigration groups for further reflection and discussion. There is now talk of another one of these congregations hosting the next iteration of the series and inviting all of the congregations in the cluster to attend, as members of all of the groups continue to learn more and deepen their commitment to this justice issue.
This model of cluster-level collaboration around an issue of justice is incredibly exciting and energizing. Seeing Unitarian Universalists reach outside the walls of their congregations, to connect with each other and with community partners is inspirational. And it also has many advantages!
- Cluster collaboration is more effective than flying solo! Congregations can learn from each others’ successes, failures, and best practices, share valuable resources and information, and benefit from activities and events organized by others. No one has to reinvent the wheel and everyone gains from the hard work and experiences of others. And we all conserve the energy we might put into organizing, researching, and going through trial-and-error moments for the thing that really matters- working for justice!
- The different strengths, focus, and interests of each congregational group can make for a richer learning experience for everyone. In our cluster, there is one congregation that has focused on supporting a family within their congregation, as one of their members goes through the immigration courts and fights against deportation. They know the ins and outs of the system and the effects it can have on real people. Another congregation has focused on companioning immigrant families in their community and on the ministry of immigration justice work via a small group ministry model. A third congregation has focused on the legislative aspects of immigration justice, including advocating for legislation on the state and federal level. All of the congregations in the cluster can benefit from the knowledge and experience each congregation gains through its specialized work.
- Partnering with community organizations working on immigration justice means our congregational groups don’t have to be experts on immigration before we can get involved. Immigration is a hugely complex issue and while there is always more to learn, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the need to know everything before we begin. By creating relationship with our partner organizations that have the resources, staff time, and knowledge to be the experts, we give ourselves permission to speak from our own position as religious people working out of communities of faith. We can speak to the larger moral questions always present in immigration debates: What are our highest values and commitments? How can we honor the worth and dignity of all people? What do we as U.S. Americans owe to people whose lands and ways of life have destroyed by actions of our government? How can we be companions and allies in the fight for justice?
The next step for our cluster is another face-to-face meeting of the leaders of each congregational immigration group, to continue to build personal relationships, as well as to brainstorm further collaboration and coordination as a cluster. I look forward to seeing what the next few months will bring and how our cluster justice model will continue to grow and change. I know that if we continue to work together in ways that create more justice, the sky is the limit!
Kierstin Homblette serves as the Community Ministry Intern for the Boulder Denver, CO cluster of Unitarian Universalist congregations She is a life long-Unitarian Universalist and a Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry.