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Advocacy Works: Mobilizing Community as Advocacy

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When New Hope was forming as a church plant, we spent our first year of organizing listening to the community around us. We went through the process of a Community Opportunity Scan to learn about what activities were happening in our community, which players were involved, what dreams people had for their neighbourhoods, where the pulse was, and where it wasn’t. The process helped us narrow our focus to a geographical area and to aim our efforts there. It also helped connect us with some vibrant movers and shakers in the community.

We really didn’t know where our initial conversations and connections would go, but we realize now that we were simply catching a wave of momentum that was clearly orchestrated by God. It ended up being quite simple, by being open and willing to listen and to serve our community, God would place us just where he needed us in this larger mosaic we call community. Something you can only see looking back: the right people, with the right gifts, stepping in at the right time.

It ended up being quite simple, by being open and willing to listen and to serve our community, God would place us just where he needed us in this larger mosaic we call community.

The clear themes we were hearing from our community were a desire to be more connected, to have access to affordable recreation, to support and grow our neighbourhood resources and services. We invited everyone that we had interviewed to a roundtable conversation where we shared what we had heard. We invited them to invite others. That first meeting the group decided they would form a Neighbourhood Planning Team. From there, things took off. Many of them, slowly.

We (New Hope Church) combined our own skills and passions with the desires of our community. Because a number of us are cyclists, joining neighbours in advocating to city staff and councillors for bike lanes, offering free bike tune ups, and eventually starting a community bicycle cooperative became a natural outflow of our skills and passions paired with the community’s interest for accessible and affordable recreation. Our interest in soccer and our newly forming relationship with our city councillor gave us influence when we sought permission to use city park space to offer an affordable soccer league for kids.

Participating at the neighbourhood planning team meetings gave us a voice to support positive change. When a faith-based organization approached the neighbourhood planning team for endorsement of an affordable housing project in our community for people who struggle with mental illness, we could advocate and say, “Yes, this is important, this adds value to our community”, when other communities cried, “not in our back yard.”

It’s been important for us to work and serve in our community alongside our children.

It’s been important for us to work and serve in our community alongside our children. Whether we’re doing regular garbage clean up on the streets, making soup and sandwiches for the Salvation Army Food Truck, or going to city hall to advocate for a particular project in our community, we bring our kids along. The result? When one of our youth wanted to get a bike pump track set up in our neighbourhood, he rallied several neighbourhood youth together and with the support of parents created a proposal that they then presented to the city councilors. Yep, we’ve got our pump track now, and we all use it!

It means joining a service at the local mosque to demonstrate our willingness to learn from others and build friendships, rather than feeding a sentiment of distrust and hostility.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Personality conflicts, opposing interests, and limited engagement from residents in more economically depressed areas of the community have contributed to challenges and barriers to moving some things ahead together, as a whole community. But as New Hope we believe we are called to have a faithful presence here. To be flexible and available when, for example, a neighbour asked our church to step in and serve in their school’s place because a teacher’s strike meant they couldn’t host a water station at this coming Sunday’s city race. For us, being a faithful presence in our neighbourhood means attending rallies at city hall that call on our leaders to make our city a welcoming place for refugees. It means joining a service at the local mosque to demonstrate our willingness to learn from others and build friendships, rather than feeding a sentiment of distrust and hostility. It means speaking words of peace when heated topics create divisions among neighbours. It means praying for our neighbours. And, to continually seek the peace and prosperity of this city to which God has called us. For us, advocacy comes in the way of working with our community to make positive changes in our neighbourhoods so that everyone can live, work, play, and thrive here.

How can you get a meeting with your representative or write an effective letter? Check out Biblical Advocacy 101 on the Office of Social Justice's Action Center. Canadian and American versions are available.

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