Over the last five years, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, California has become the leader in advocating with homeless persons in Ventura County. Their exciting and focused work has led to significant progress within their community; from raising awareness to working with local officials on legislative and funding issues. Working alongside the city’s 10-Year Strategy to End Homelessness, they helped secure over $100,000 in funding, established Lift Up Your Voice (LUYV), a non-profit advocacy group, hold annual memorial services for homeless persons and offer guided trips through "Hidden Ventura". Their success can be attributed to cultivating a focused approach to social justice ministry, encouraging a church culture of generosity and trust, and making budget decisions that allow the staff to spend time and energy in support of justice issues.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura’s commitment to advocacy with homeless individuals began through a creative worship exercise that gave away $100 bills to those interested in doing something for social justice. Several church members used this money to buy coats for homeless persons and as a result the relationships they formed, began attending meetings of the city’s Social Services Task Force. These efforts coincided with other local homelessness initiatives, which drew attention to the growing challenge of homeless persons in Ventura County. Sensing that there was energy and interest around these issues, members of the church, including the Rev. Jan Christian, began conversations with members of the homeless population. Through these conversations, the decision was made to focus the congregation’s social justice ministry on advocacy alongside the community’s homeless persons by establishing a new non-profit, Lift Up Your Voice (LUYV). LUYV, always affiliated with the church, was established to build a coalition while developing overall leadership to end homelessness in Ventura.
In order to support this new initiative, the congregation applied for a number of grants, including from the Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility and the McCune Foundation. After receiving significant funds, they hired a professional coordinator for LUYV, who worked both within the congregation and around the community. Following the grants, the congregation employed “faith based budgeting,” the practice of crafting a financial plan based not on annual pledge amounts but on the vision and hopes of the congregation. The combination of these efforts ensured the continuing success and sustainability of their ministry.
The commitment to social justice was possible in large part because the congregation had worked to transform its culture. They believed that a strong social justice church needed to also be a strong and mature institution, guided by established best practices. Efforts were made to encourage good communication skills, build covenants of right relationship, design policies to limit disruptive behavior and cultivate a general spirit of generosity, giving, trust and accountability. In the eyes of the church’s leadership, this work was essential to the success of their social justice work.
Within the last five years, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura and Lift Up Your Voice have accomplished much, including:
Despite these many accomplishments, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura continues to look for new ways of advocating on homelessness. They have recently called an Assistant Minister, the Rev. David Pyle, and hope that further staffing will allow professional leadership more time and energy for social justice work. In addition, they are looking to incorporate spirituality deeper into their ministry. The congregation has been studying Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and leaders have been deliberately encouraging time for reflection and conversation following justice events.
Other recent work addresses growing concerns around homeless persons living in and around the city’s riverbed. The congregation is looking to support these individuals when they are forcibly removed from where they are staying. To do so, the church is designing a program to train members of the community to “stand on the side of love” and offer witness and compassion for those being cleared away. The church hopes to partner with other local religious organizations as well as environmental groups, who are concerned about the health of the river. Other current work includes designing new initiatives to support homeless veterans in Ventura County and advocating for a year round shelter for homeless persons.
Read the action steps for transformative congregational justice ministry.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
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Last updated on Thursday, June 7, 2012.
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Rev. Jan Christian (left) with UUs from Ventura rally for shelters for the homeless.
UUs from Ventura in front of River Haven Dome Shelters.
UUs from Ventura rally for shelters for the homeless.
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UU Funding Program - Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility
UUA Economic Justice Resources
UU Church of Ventura - Lift Up Your Voice
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Ventura County Star: 'A time to remember the county's homeless' by Rev. Jan Christian and Beth Sutherland
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McCune Foundation - 2011 Grant Awards
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