What We Learned in Our Faith Labs

What we try to do at Neighborhood Economics is to bring people together from many sectors to learn how to work together locally to create an economy, particularly a LOCAL economy, that works for everyone.

Folks get excited about this work. For some, it is about finally seeing the partners we have been waiting for show up. But for others, while it is exciting to begin to understand possibilities, it can be hard to figure out what that next step might be. For many people in churches, this is truly life-changing: finding that you are not alone in believing that economic justice is the work of the Church. There is a lot to work through for the Church to do this work, and it is good to be with other people of faith in doing it. 

Often, the work starts out like this:

  • What project you might tackle first?
  • Is what you are imagining really desired by the communities you want to impact?
  • What partners are working on similar ideas?
  • How do you test your ideas?
  • How do you get your congregation to come along? 

This year in San Antonio, two of the four labs we hosted the day after the regular content were focused with and for people of faith.  

One was about helping seminaries include economic justice in their curricula. That is no easy task because every course in the existing curriculum feels important, even essential. But we know from what seminarians have told us that they want training on these issues before they get into ministerial positions. Pastor Lee Wong, of San Antonio, and Leroy Barber, Executive Director of Faith+Finance, facilitated this lab, asking participants to consider the challenges, brainstorm about ways to bring about change, and think about how to share these conversations back at the seminaries from which participants came. Some participants with experience in curricular revision shared their ideas, and everyone in the room agreed that this is an important conversation that needs to continue. Already we are planning to host a retreat for seminary leadership around this topic. 

The other faith-based lab was for people from congregations who really wanted to think through the critical steps to take what they learned back home. We were fortunate to have this lab led by two amazing leaders, Aaron Kuecker, President of Trinity Christian College in Chicago,  and Elizabeth Coffee, of the HE Butt Foundation. 

Sarah Woolsey, also working with the HE Butt Foundation, developed a set of tools to guide the work of the labs, and a robust group of faith leaders worked in small groups during the morning discovering what their motivations were for doing this work and asking critical questions about what is next for them. 

Some of the small groups that already had projects underway used the time to identify barriers to getting work done, imagining ways around these barriers, and others had time to imagine what work they might tackle when they got home. Between the tools that Sarah had developed and the creative leadership and problem-solving offered by Aaron and Elizabeth, the morning was filled with laughter, reflection, and hope for the future of the places the attendees serve. 

Luke Lingle, Director of Leadership and Vision at Central UMC in Asheville, NC, attended this lab and raved about it: “It was really helpful and I thought did a great job of using visuals to help participants see how they could move forward in their context. Aaron and Elizabeth helped members of the lab think through and put on paper active ways to engage the community in our context for positive social change. Their lab was interactive and participatory, and I felt like I was able to take home some real action steps from our time together.”

These conversations will likely continue in Chicago, as will other faith topics. Please reach out to us with any ideas you have to enrich this important conversation about the work of the Church in economic justice.