Repositioning Congregations for Advocacy and Action
excerpt from EDUCATING AND ORGANIZING HEALTH MINISTRIES
Volume 1: Toward An Accessible Universal Health Care, published by the United Church of Christ
Building an Effective Network in the Religious Community
People of faith are called to address the issue of health care both in the congregation and in the wider community. By sharing their personal stories, becoming informed about the issues, and building a network of people committed to advocacy, the religious community can change our health care system.
There is agreement on the critical condition of America's health care system which demands change. Change, however, is difficult to create.
We know that solutions to a problem of the magnitude of the health care crisis can only be made legislatively. Health care expenditures now constitute almost one-seventh (14%) of our country's gross national product. Health care costs now exceed $1 trillion with powerful supporters who resist any significant change in the present system.
Therefore, faith communities cannot establish justice in health care by themselves. Congregations alone cannot move one-seventh of the American economy. But we don=t have to. A strong movement for health care access is growing in the United States. It is a movement akin to earlier grassroots efforts to end slavery, to extend voting rights to women, and to guarantee civil rights to racial minorities.
The strength of this movement is not found in dollars or in positions of power. It is found in people - people who believe in something larger than themselves, people who participate fully in the democratic process out of their concern for the common good.
Congregations and individuals, once they are aware of the increasing climate of crisis in our health care system, and once they have uncovered the proposed legislative solutions, will need to create networks of health care advocates in order to work effectively for change. They will need to bring together concerned people who will share information, lobby their elected officials, and raise the religious voice in the public policy debate already begun.
It is good to begin your network in your local congregation. But the work cannot end there. So, after gathering a few members of your congregation who are interested in health care, extend your network to other congregations in your faith tradition. Establish contact with the social action and advocacy or health ministries staff that serve in coordinating structures in your state and national offices.
Do ecumenical and interfaith outreach, both in your local community and statewide. Most members of congregations are acquainted with members of other faith groups. Make use of your natural contacts. Find out if an ecumenical or interfaith organization in your state is already involved in universal health care advocacy. If not, invite them to join your efforts!
Build bridges with secular organizations. In many states, coalitions are now working to pull people together for health advocacy. Contact them and find out whether you can work with them. They may be able to provide you with materials and information updates for your group.
Find out, also, whether there are local contacts or organizations working in your local community for universal health care. If not, form a coalition.
Remember, health care costs affect everyone. Brainstorm lists of local organizations that have any reason to be concerned. Many members of your congregation also belong to other organizations, unions, neighborhood groups, etc. Again, make use of contacts you already have to build your coalition of concerned advocates.
Beginning thoughts . . .
Listed below are many ideas that have worked well where people are building health advocacy networks. Keep in mind that an effective network or coalition is simply the people who are part of it and the relationships that exist between them.
When you build a network, you are building a set of face-to-face relationships among people who share a common goal. In this case, the common goal is universal health care. A network of people in face-to-face relationships exists to take action. But actions must be chosen that build and nurture the network of people.
The events that are held - forums, small group discussions, letter-writing parties - are not ends in themselves. At every planning meeting, ask: How does our action increase and strengthen our network? So, if your network sponsors a forums or visits a legislator, for example, design your event to encourage others to join you and to increase leadership skills among you.
Stay in touch with your members. Act democratically. Plan strategies together based on common principles. Encourage one another. Be inclusive and forgiving. Count your successes by the people who join with you in this work for universal health care. Finally, acknowledge that the strength of a network of religious people is seen in the strength of your religious voice.
Health care access is an ethical concern, a justice issue. Because you share in a community of faith, you may not step back from raising the moral questions that impinge on the way our nation provides health care to its people.
Beginning steps . . .
Build interest and awareness
Write an article for your congregation's newsletter.
Sponsor a study of scriptures which call the community of faith to concerns of healing and justice.
Request that health care issues be the topic of sermon(s).
Use Mission Moments in worship.
Make a presentation to the congregation's council or governing body.
Make a presentation to the mission/outreach/social concerns committee.
Make presentations to groups in the congregation C women=s, men=s youth, etc.
Gather the people
Hold a meeting of interested members of the congregation.
Make copies of handouts available from the campaign and other resources.
Begin by using the scriptural and theological principles that form the basis for religious concern and action around access to health care.
Invite everyone to tell why she/he is interested in access to health care.
Encourage everyone to tell his/her own personal health care story.
Talk about the need for universal access to health care, special needs in your community, needs for special groups (youth, elderly, ethnic), issues you think should be addressed.
Organize congregational forums.
Identify others in the congregation who are also members of groups or organizations that are studying health care.
Identify members who work in the health care field.
Possible forum discussion topics:
Resolutions/pronouncements made by the national organization of your faith community relating to the issue of universal health care.
Resolutions/pronouncements made by other faith groups relating to the issue of universal health care.
The status of health care in your community.
Current proposed legislation - both in your state and at the federal level.
Initiate advocacy by your congregation
Schedule an offering of letters
Organize a delegation from your congregation to meet a legislator
Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper stating the issues of concern and suggested action or reforms.
Invite other congregations in your faith community to join your discussion and action.
Build interest within this larger group, adapting the steps in the section
Contact your local ecumenical or interfaith council to determine what activities are taking place in the faith community in your area.
Invite congregations of other faith groups to plan and participate in community-wide forums.
Determine common concerns and goals around health care.
Plan activities with other members of the community that will mobilize a grassroots constituency for access to health care.
Issue press releases and invite the media to cover your events.
Attend legislators' town meetings.
Get dates for the meetings.
Organize a group to attend.
Plan questions to ask the legislator about his/her plans and efforts to make health care accessible and affordable.
Assign questions to individuals.
Compile sign-in sheets from events to build a list of people in your community who are interested in working on health care reform.
Maintain a list of resources in your community - people, organizations, print and visual materials - that address various health care issues. Keep samples of materials so people can see them.
Contact the state and national offices of your faith group and join the health and social action networks. Join with other people of faith who are addressing this issue in communities all across the country. Get on mailing lists which will provide information and educational materials on health care issues.
EDUCATING AND ORGANIZING HEALTH MINISTRIES, VOL. 1,
published by the United Church of Christ.
The information provided here has been adapted for use in all faith communities.