Core Team Highlight: First Congregational UCC

By Paul Savides

How did you become involved in your JONAH Core team? 

Jackie Christner and I attended a Gamaliel Weeklong Leadership Training in the summer of 2008. At the training, we learned that the most basic building block of a successful congregation-based, social justice organization was the congregation core team. We were also asked to commit to taking on a leadership role in our home communities. So, when we returned to Eau Claire, we decided to form a core team at First Congregational Church. Jackie and I have served on the core team ever since.

Why do you stay involved? 

I stay involved in our core team because I want to spread the word about JONAH’s work in the community, share opportunities for involvement in JONAH’s task forces and events, and teach organizing concepts and skills to our congregation members. Being on the core team has also allowed me to be in a relationship with many, many wonderful congregation members.

What are some of the issues/events your team has worked on? 

We hold an annual JONAH Sunday at our church, where we talk about the wider JONAH and invite a specific task force to talk about their work. We also hold a semi-annual unused medication collection. Our core team helps to provide meals for the Roundtable Revival Men’s Mentorship Program that meets at our church. We also hold one-on-ones with new church members to get to know them and tell them about our core team and JONAH’s work.

One of our early successes was to organize a group of congregation members to help solve a long-standing parking problem on Sundays. Because we have no parking lot, members must park on the street. This can be challenging for some of our older members and for those with mobility issues, especially in the winter months. The problem-solving group was made up of many of the people who experienced the parking challenges directly. As a solution, they created a program called “Wheels of Welcome.” At no cost to the riders, a taxi would pick up any members who wanted a ride and bring them to the church, where an usher would meet them and assist them into the church building. The program has become so popular that we have extended the service for any church activities during the week. 

What is one story of meaningful interaction you’ve had with someone because of your work on your JONAH Core Team?

I recently did a one-on-one training for our church’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. They were deeply interested and attentive and expressed their gratitude for the training. I felt a strong and empathetic connection with the members of the committee. I think the training gave them confidence to speak individually with members of the congregation about their work.

What in your faith calls you to this work of social justice community organizing? 

My faith calls me to share the love and the abundance of resources that surround us with all who need it. It requires of me that I treat those around me with the kindness and dignity and respect with which I would want to be treated. The organizing work that I do is to play my part in the larger mission of our church and our faith to share the good news of the Gospel and ensure that all our neighbors have the things they need to grow and thrive and lead rewarding and successful lives.