Advocacy at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church
(Adopted by the Vestry, 05.14.18)
What is advocacy and why advocate?
As Christians we take seriously Jesus’ example of caring for the marginalized: those who are poor, widowed, ill, and orphaned—groups of people who lack power and influence. Our mission at HSP states that we follow his example as we serve those in need. As Episcopalians, the Book of Common Prayer gives shape to our mission and the life of our community. In our baptismal covenant we vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourself].” And we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We take Scripture seriously, recognizing our many privileges and taking to heart Jesus’ words, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) Service to our community and world is the core of who we are as people of faith. We understand this service to others as a moral obligation.
But advocacy is not direct service. A food bank or clothing closet provides direct service. When we ask—“Why does this child need food or clothing or social acceptance, or what circumstances came together to create this need?”--we are asking about the root causes of poverty and injustice. And such circumstances always involve institutions—the law, the courts, the schools, the government, the corporations. We understand advocacy as a response to systems that either intentionally or inadvertently perpetuate the marginalization of populations who lack power and suffer injustice and poverty as a result. As we expose these institutional root causes of injustice and inequality to sources of power and society at large, we are doing advocacy work. Advocacy pushes beyond meeting the immediate need, and calls for system-wide change to eliminate such needs in the future.
We believe that for advocacy to function best, it should be one component of a three-part process that includes direct service, personal reflection, and advocacy. It is one response to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “just as you did to one of the least of these, . . . you did it to me.”
How do we engage in advocacy as a parish?
The work of advocacy can take many forms:
- education within the parish about the nature of an institutional problem through speakers, book-studies, or panels;
- letters of support or opposition from HSP to newspapers concerning the institutional problem, relevant legislation, or budget appropriations;
- letters, calls, or visits by parishioners representing HSP to decision makers at the Missoula City Council, Missoula County Commissioners, Montana State Legislature, or U.S. Congress;
- rallies, marches, and demonstrations in Missoula, Helena, or elsewhere
- the above work done in coalition with like-minded groups or groups with experience and expertise in a specific issue.
How do we choose which issues to advocate for?
While members of Holy Spirit will always be welcome and encouraged to voice their own individual opinions on issues as private citizens, when they speak, write or appear as representatives of Holy Spirit Parish, it must be in conjunction with the approved advocacy work of our church.
Filters: There are a number of filters that can help us at Holy Spirit to narrow our vision and focus our work as a parish.
- The Episcopal Church. The national church engages in advocacy on a wide range of topics. It can serve as the first level of filter for projects that members of the parish may be interested in pursuing. The Social Concerns Committee (SCC) or Vestry may ask—Does this project fit within the work and mission of the national church? If it does not, does it still warrant the commitment of our parish and why?
- The Diocese of Montana. The Diocese of Montana serves as a second filter. The SCC or Vestry may ask—Does this project fit within the work and mission of our diocese? Likewise, if it does not fit within the scope of current diocesan work and mission, does it still warrant the commitment of our parish and why?
- Our local parish. A third level filter is our own parish. The SCC or Vestry may ask—Does this project fit within Holy Spirit's vision and mission? Are several members of our congregation interested in this particular project and is there energy within the congregation-at-large for this work?
- Potential Partners in Advocacy. Finally, those interested in pursuing advocacy work should continually be looking for partner groups and organizations to collaborate with for enhanced impact, if such partnerships are feasible. The SCC or Vestry may ask—Are there natural partners with whom HSP may collaborate with in this work?
Ultimately, it is the Social Concerns Committee, the Vestry, and Rector, who decide which issues to advocate for as a parish. HSP people wanting to advocate should first go through SCC, who will vet applicants and send the positive recommendations to Vestry and Rector for their approval. And after an issue has been affirmed for advocacy, the SCC will work with those interested in the issue to figure out the most appropriate and effective advocacy strategies to use. Some other questions for the SCC, Vestry, Rector, and interested groups to consider as they decide on which issues to advocate for are the following:
- What do we consider to be a successful outcome of our advocacy work and how will we measure it? What metrics will we use?
- What actions do we consider to be appropriate to achieve success? What actions are inappropriate?
- Do our findings and conclusions at given points lead us to decide whether we will fail or achieve success?
- Will our efforts at implementation be cost worthy (Was this the best way to spend the resources?) and cost effective?
- Can we respect a diversity of viewpoints? Engaging in advocacy on a congregational level requires that we encourage diverse opinions and reactions, and that we respect diversity of thought. It requires that we communicate broadly about our goals, intentions and process, that we move forward slowly and deliberately, and that we create a variety of options for involvement within the advocacy work.
In conclusion: As written in Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The roots of our faith demand that we do no less. One of the “Five Marks of Mission,” as first laid down by the Anglican Union, is “to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” Embracing the work of advocacy as members of Holy Spirit Parish will provide a vital supplement to our prayers and direct service to the poor.