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One of the easiest and most under-utilized advocacy tools is to invite your member of Congress to speak at your congregation about health care reform. If your congregation is large you will probably have no trouble getting the member of Congress to come. If your congregation is small, you may want to work with a couple of other congregations or a local ecumenical/interfaith organization to jointly invite the member of Congress.

The planning and preparation is quite simple. Follow the guidelines below:

Planning Your Meeting

1) Decide when would be best time for the Member of Congress to come. Should she/he speak at the adult forum, a special evening supper, an adult education class , or some other forum? Have as many dates and times available as possible.

2) Contact the Member of Congress’ office to invite the Member to speak at your congregation about what he/she is doing about health care reform. Suggest some of your preferred dates, but be prepared to be flexible. Indicate how many people you expect (try to get as many people as possible).

3) Research the voting record of your Member of Congress. Find out how the Member has voted on health care bills and what issues would be important to speak with him/her about.

4) Hold a planning meeting with leaders in the congregation. In this meeting you should:

  • Decide on the specific questions you want to ask the Member of Congress. You should assume that whatever she or he says about health care reform will probably sound good, so you will need to ask very specific questions that elicit detailed responses about areas of concern. 
  • Decide on the format for the meeting. The agenda should look something like this:
  •                    Opening prayer
                       Welcome and introduction of the Member of Congress
                       Member of Congress speaks on health care reform
                       Specific questions
                       Open-mike questions
                       Thank you
                       Closing prayer

    • Prepare questions. Be sure to have a time where specific people from your planning group ask pointed, prepared questions. These people can even be seated in front with the speaker, or off at a special table to the side. The point of these questions is to focus the discussion around issues of concern. General mike questions may tend to take the discussion off onto issues of concern to just one or two people. Think of this time as an opportunity to get the congressperson on record saying what you want him/her to say.
    • Decide on roles. Who will lead the opening and closing prayers? Who will moderate? Who will introduce the Member of Congress? Who will ask the questions (should be several people)? Who will be prepared to lead applause when the Member of Congress says something really good? Is there someone who can take notes, or even videotape the meeting?

    Running the Meeting

    • Begin on time, if the Member of Congress has arrived. Frequently, politicians run late, so you should be prepared to have someone lead singing or another activity until the Member of Congress arrives.
    • Review the agenda. Give the Member of Congress a sense of how long he or she should speak. Be prepared to give the Member of Congress a two-minute warning before her/his time is up. You want to be sure to have enough time to get to your questions.
    • Call on the special questioners. Keep the tone of this section upbeat, but very focused. The moderator should help the questioner get very precise answers from the politician. Remember, politicians are experts at not answering specific questions!
    • Thank the Member of Congress for coming, whatever he or she might have said. Also, be prepared to give a wrap up statement, such as, "We appreciate your willingness to talk with us. As a congregation, we are still concerned that the bill you are supporting does/does not________.  We hope we can continue to work with you and possibly convince you that ________ bill will lead toward greater access to health care for all."

    Following-up the Meeting

    • Send a follow-up thank you letter to the Member of Congress and his/her staff. Reiterate your congregation’s concerns in the letter.
    • Evaluate the meeting with your planning group. What could have been done better? What worked really well? What follow-up should be undertaken to demonstrate the political viability of your position in his/her district?
    • Call or write Faithful Reform in Health Care about what occurred. It is critical for the religious advocates in to know what is happening around the country.
    • Plan your next steps. Should you collect more letters? More postcards? What else can be done?
    Adapted from resources provided by the Interreligious Health Care Working Group, Washington, DC [1994]

Faithful Reform in Health Care ~ P.O. Box 6174 ~ Wilson, NC 27894-6174 ~ 1-888-863-8910