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As I write, I’m flying from Belfast to Amsterdam on the penultimate leg of a long-anticipated trip to the Netherlands and Northern Ireland with my sister, Carol. Our trip was years in the planning: we wanted to see the lands of our ancestors, 94% Dutch from nearly every province, and 6% Irish from County Down.
One set of our 3rd great-grandparents, Richard Soy* of Lurgan and his wife Ellen Boston of Magheralin, were illiterate and destitute Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century. This was confirmed by our charming server Chris at the restaurant Cyprus Avenue (highly recommend!) in Belfast who said even today the Irish from Lurgan are regarded as “common.” Yep. Our people.
But I digress. Carol and I were thoroughly impressed with the Dutch roads and transportation infrastructure. I’m a Minnesotan and our roads are in terrible repair. Carol is a Wisconsinite and those roads are in horrible repair. Dutch roads are luxurious in comparison.
Dutch cycling infrastructure is equally as robust and, as many of you know, Dutch cyclists don’t stop for anyone or anything. Woe to the confused pedestrian (me) who steps on the bike path, or fietspad, only to be greeted from behind with loud “HELLO???”
I live near enough to the Twin Cities to casually follow their cycling news. Recently there was a contentious debate in St. Paul over the reconstruction of iconic Summit Avenue. The cyclists prevailed and the rebuilt Summit will include a raised, dedicated bike path.
As far as I know, no congregations lobbied St. Paul’s city council in favor of the cycling path. However, such moments present prime opportunities for congregations concerned about climate change and safe, affordable transportation to engage with city leaders and support initiatives like additional bike paths.
Is your congregation in regular contact with municipal, state, and national officials regarding issues of faith your congregation is called to address?
- Homelessness and affordable housing?
- Affordable and accessible mental health care?
- Resettlement of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers?
- Care for our environment in the face of devastating climate disruption?
While the U.S. tax code prevents congregations from endorsing political candidates, it does not prohibit congregations and denominations from addressing pressing local and national issues.
Granted, denominations lobby Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Catholic Church, for example, spend millions each year on lobbying, as do many others. But it’s not enough.
From my work as a community organizer and engagement with elected officials at the national level, I know they take individual constituent input seriously. One current U.S. Senator told me she eagerly anticipates her staff’s daily tabulation of constituents’ letters and phone calls, including what they have called or written about and what they would like her to advocate for.
What if each of our congregations sponsored a monthly “Letters and Libations” hour during which congregants would gather to write letters or place phone calls, to local, state, and national officials about significant issues and while also sipping a favorite beverage: tea, coffee, or a favorite brew?
Or, what if each of our congregations found a volunteer who regularly informed congregants of current decisions being made by elected officials and how congregants could contact them with thoughtful, faith-filled input?
The city of St. Paul will remove about two hundred trees along Summit Avenue to make the new bike path. Will local congregations press the city to plant two hundred replacement trees? I challenge them to.
Our flight approaches the Netherlands’ coast and below on the sea we spy a wind farm of at least twenty-eight windmills generating clean, renewable energy. Will you ask your elected representatives to enact legislation promoting sustainable energy? I will. My faith demands it. I hope you and your congregation will too.
We’re almost on the tarmac at Schiphol and Carol asks me if traveling with my sister made me more like Jesus. Sigh. That’s a whole other blog post and we ain’t going there.
*Richard Soy lied and lowered his age by twenty years in order to join the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. He later deserted and spent time in a military prison near Washington DC. Our people.