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Deepening Faith through Service
Deepening Faith through Service
Congregational Action, Congregational Stories & Best Practices in Social Justice

Episode Nine in the "A Religion for Our Time" series shows how the social justice program at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena, CA, engages the congregation in a range of projects and facilitates participants' spiritual growth.

As Associate Minister Rev. Hannah Petrie observes, "Some of our most spiritual moments—where we're really connected with the divine—happen when we're in service to others and service of a more just and peaceful world."

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REV. PETER MORALES: One of the profound joys of the religious community is the work we do together. Whether we're rolling up our sleeves for community projects, standing on the side of love for people on the margins, or organizing forums on critical issues, we can do so much more together than we could ever do alone. The programming at Neighborhood UU Church of Pasadena provides a powerful example.

REV. DR. JIM NELSON: Our belief is that's an essential part of the mission of the church. I think that we are God's hands in the world, that it's our job to do justice and peacemaking here in Pasadena.

REV. HANNAH PETRIE: Some of our most spiritual moments, where we're really connected with the divine, happen when we're in service to others and service of a more just and peaceful world. Now, of course, that means different things to different people. So it's really my job to make sure there are variety of opportunities available to them.

NARRATOR: So Neighborhood Church uses the task force model with four main components: direct service, education, funding and fundraising, and public witness.

REV. HANNAH PETRIE: The first is direct service, which is kind of the traditional mode of social justice and service.

NARRATOR: Like the Esperanza Project to build houses in Tijuana, Mexico.

TRES IZZARD: Two or three times a year, Neighborhood Church sends a group of anywhere from 25 to 35 people to go down and help build homes. People do think they can make a difference. We're not changing the world. We're not even changing Tijuana. But you are changing -- you're changing life for a family. Every time I go, I'm thankful for the opportunity to remember how lucky I am.

NARRATOR: Another major project is called Big Saturday. It's a weekend of service by churches and other groups all over L.A.

LES HUNTER: We've found two schools that we've worked with, and we'll help them clean up by painting, scrubbing, landscaping, and we've done some construction, too, where we'll build some benches. It's a bonding experience, but I think it also gives people a sense of community and involvement where they realize they're putting their principles in action. And I think that that speaks to a lot of people's spirituality, and it's a spiritual practice for them. You can kind of feel it. It makes everybody feel like, wow, we can make a difference if we team up together.

REV. HANNAH PETRIE: And then we've got education because we want to make sure that people are educated on the issues. And so our 7th Principle program, as an example, makes sure they have a monthly speaker series.

RODY STEPHENSON: We were working with the City of Pasadena, who is attempting to ban plastic bags. We are working at the state level on water, and we had a big water justice summit back in May. And at the federal level, we're working on climate change and energy.

REV. HANNAH PETRIE: Next we have funding and fundraising. We try to be as generous a church as we can possibly be. And so every second Sunday, we give the entire offering for both services to a worthy recipient organization. And finally, we make sure that throughout the year, there are some examples of witness where we're actually participating in rallies or we're advocating for a certain issue that's important.

NARRATOR: Offering many different kinds of justice work is one part of the Neighborhood success story. Another is staffing.

BETH COLCORD: I'm sort of the conduit between the congregation and the church and the congregation and the community as far as social justice projects and programs go.

REV. HANNAH PETRIE: It says a lot about this church that they're willing to staff for success, that social justice is a huge part of their identity, and that they want to be known for it.

ELIZABETH SADLON: Participating in social justice at Neighborhood Church is one of the real anchors for me in my community and is a way for me to be able to live my personal values and to be able to model for my girls that they can make a difference and that our family is committed to using our time and our energy and our resources to be able to make a difference in the community.

BETH COLCORD: You know, social justice is an area where people can grow. They can grow as people. They can grow educationally, they can grow intellectually, and they can grow spiritually. And when someone has worked on a project, for example, going to Tijuana and building a home for somebody who's been living in a garbage dump up until then, they come back, and they're different people.

REV. DR. JIM NELSON: The more volunteering, the more opportunities people take to be involved in activities through the church, the deeper their connection with the church becomes, and the more I find that they open themselves to a deeper spiritual life.

BETH COLCORD: And that kind of transformation, is what it's all about. That's why we do what we do. I'm sorry, I'm crying.

REV. DR. JIM NELSON: We really hope that people's individual faith and spiritual practice is linked with service, and that when you strengthen one, you strengthen the other.

NARRATOR: Part of the essence of being a religion for our time.


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