Bringing you justice

The Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit is visiting congregations throughout Victoria and Tasmania as part of its congregational-based community organising initiative.

Denisse Sandoval (pictured) has been working with the JIM unit since October last year.

With a background in community organising and mobilisation in the USA and Chile, she is excited about the challenges offered by her new role.

“I was attracted to the role with JIM because it has given me the chance to work closely with congregations and campaign on issues that matter to people,” Ms Sandoval said.

One thing that has really impressed Ms Sandoval is the depth of experience and level of commitment she has encountered in congregations. Part of her role is to encourage members to become involved in campaigns, but also to determine how the experience of social justice committee members can best be used.

“The support social justice committees give to existing campaigns is really important, we definitely wouldn’t have achieved the successes we have without them,” Ms Sandoval said.

“We go out and meet committee members and discuss what strengths and interests they have,” she said.

“At some congregations, people are incredibly politically savvy. They have been involved in many successful community campaigns – lobbying local MPs and so on – and they are asking what more they can do. I see my role as supporting any potential ideas they may have.”

Issues and concerns faced by congregations can often mirror those of the wider community. Ms Sandoval said that in some churches, when tensions arise they can offer an opportunity for community organising. She cites the hypothetical situation of a church in a regional centre experiencing ethnic tension within the congregation.

“In this situation I would suggest running a workshop or training day where we do what’s called one-on-ones,” Ms Sandoval said.

“In conversation you deliberately try to get a good sense of a person by asking about their personal life, their role in the community and their role in the church.

“When you have the trust of people to try it in a safe workshop setting, you can intentionally encourage them to know each other in a deeper way and that helps alleviate tensions within the group. It could be something done over the whole day or it could be a shorter workshop.”

Ms Sandoval said that one of the benefits of this approach is that it can be extended throughout the wider community. If congregations are interested in inviting people outside of their church membership for a community organising initiative, that could be facilitated by the JIM unit through a community organising training day.

Ms Sandoval hopes to visit as many congregations as possible, and encourages social justice groups to contact her to arrange a visit. She feels it is important to remind people that a lot of what the JIM unit does is about engaging with people.

“Of course the support people give to existing campaigns is very worthwhile.

“We can’t do what we do without people, as it’s just the six of us working in the unit,” Ms Sandoval said.

“But this face-to-face approach puts an emphasis on congregational engagement so people know who we are and why we are doing this.”

To learn more about community organising and its benefits to congregations and social justice committees, contact Denisse in the JIM unit: denisse.sandoval@victas.uca.org.au

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