This is the last in a series of 3 posts that are part of an on going conversation at The Riverside Church on how the whole church is called to do the work of justice and building beloved community. These posts were inspired by a public discussion called #TrendingAtTRC I held with Beth Ackerman, Head of Riverside’s creation care ministry Beloved Earth, and Lisa Hinds Salmon, Chair of our Finance Committee. Too often the finances of a church and its social justice ministries are viewed as completely separate. But we know that churches most fully live into their mission when everyone is contributing their passions and strengths toward the same goals. I am grateful to Beth and Lisa for doing the challenging work of collaboration. We know Riverside is not the only church exploring these questions and hope these conversations are helpful to others.
In the first post we explored what we mean when we talk about “divestment” as a social justice tool and the second conversation examined the intersection of climate, race, and poverty. The questions for this post are: Seeing as the #Trending Conversation between Beloved Earth and Finance is an example of two seemingly non-related Riverside groups/ideas coming together, are there other cool examples/ideas of collaboration we could be exploring? How do I know what’s a good potential collaboration match?
I’m looking forward to both Lisa’s and Beth’s ideas in answer to this question, especially since I’ve heard so many ways in which they both have been leading collaborative efforts that maybe some in the congregation are even unaware of.
This church was born in the congregational tradition, a church tradition not without its flaws but certainly with robust possibility because partnership is embedded in the DNA of congregational polity. In other words, partnership between committed lay people and excellent professional staff is what helps us live into our best institutional witness.
The professional staff works as a collaborative team at all times, and that collaboration is strongest when exercised in partnership with laity. When a layperson or group has an idea for ministry or action, close work with a member of the staff will result in conversation about how and where collaboration is possible and meaningful. For example, this year the Riverside Book Club approached me about featuring a book I’d placed in the Welcome Center, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s book, She’s Not There. I mentioned that Jenny has been coming to church lately, so we worked together to see if she’d be available to join in. Then, it was clear that Maranatha should be involved, as Jenny is a leading national voice for the Transgender movement. It became clear then that communications, stewardship, IT, education, and other parts of church staff, programs, and laity also had potential interest in a program like this, so they were engaged in planning and participation. What began as a small program for a insulated group in the church evolved into a much larger expression and celebration, even, of our community. This is what I mean when I talk about #OneRiverside—working together in partnership, the best expression of our congregational polity, to impact our community and the larger world in the most meaningful ways we can.
#OneRiverside provides some great opportunities to get to know each other. In several meetings with Finance Chair Lisa Hinds Salmon and Pastor Amy I was able to connect on a human level with wonderful women who are doing important work but were, until then, somewhat unknown to me. With that backdrop it was even more inspiring to learn more about the justice-based investing which is the heart of the goals that Finance is working on now. At the congregational meeting Ms. Hinds explained their goal is to “align our money with our mission” around for-profit prisons, and to divest the portfolio from them. In this way the desire to have a more racially equitable world becomes actionable.
It got the Beloved Earth Community wondering, since we know Riverside’s mission includes “fostering responsible stewardship of God’s creation,” wouldn’t it be true under the new paradigm, that aligning of our financial priorities around earth justice is not far behind? Can we now divest from fossil fuels on a prudent and measured 5-year timeline?
Maybe you wonder, how much do Riversiders really consider environmental stewardship part of their spiritual life? A while ago I attended a retreat of the Mission and Social Justice Commission. People took turns answering, “When did your spirituality start and where were you?” most of them answered similarly, explaining they felt God when they were out in nature, perhaps from a young age. Whether it was an individual from the Prison Ministry, Sharing Fund, Maranatha or others, their connection to God is hardwired to his handiwork. So this awareness is another part of our connection to each other at church.
Now we are beginning to recycle as a church community with more intention, a #OneRiverside initiative. Paper use is being minimized, most recently announced as another #OneRiverside initiative with Stewardship. Now we are actively seeking more energy reductions everywhere in our 185,000 square foot building, a collaboration between the Building Committee, Patrick O’Brian, who is Riverside’s new property manager, and Beloved Earth.
Let’s continue to raise up our love and gratitude for creation, making sure those investments align with our God-given commitments, and do it as One Riverside.
Please see the Beloved Earth Community’s booklet about Divestment for more info: link. http://www.trcnyc.org/socialjustice/files/DivestmentFinalCombined2-18-16.pdf
Collaboration is at the heart of the work we all do at Riverside. The Finance Committee serves our community of faith in this way. The question is “who are we called to be?” and “how can we live out radical love?” Embracing our collective belief system and having those beliefs represented in our investment policy statement with credibility, accountability, and moral authenticity is our mission.