Address to the 7th Annual Assembly, October 22, 2012
The Rev. Jim Richardson
Rector, St. Paul’s Memorial Church
I want to have some straight talk with you tonight – you the leaders of IMPACT.
I begin with a passage of Scripture from my tradition, the Christian New Testament, from the Gospel of Mark 9:35.
“Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ ”
Some people in our community are accustomed to going first – maybe too accustomed.
And some people in our community are accustomed to going last – maybe too accustomed.
We are here to change that in this community. We are here so that those who seem consigned to going last get a chance to go first.
We are here, I think, because we agree on bringing justice in our community, and we are here because our faith traditions compel us to that position.
But this gets complicated quickly, and that’s what I want to talk about with you tonight.
The name of our organization is IMPACT – Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.
IMPACT has had several great successes over its six year life: a dental clinic, new bus routes, a mental health re-entry program. But we are still a young organization, and we are at a tender moment in our life together.
We are still a six-year-old.
The first word in our name is Interfaith. The last word is Together.
Interfaith means we come together as people of God who have very different experiences of God, different ways of explaining God, different ways of telling and hearing our sacred stories. We don’t all read the Bible, and those who do, don’t read it the same way.
We also reflect this complex community where we live – we are Anglo, African American, Latino, Latina, Asian. We come with different educational backgrounds, different vocations, different income levels, and we are young, old, and in between. Some of you Twitter, and some of you have no idea what that means.
We see and understand the world very differently.
The last word in our name – Together – is not always easy to achieve. We are, after all, still a six-year-old as an organization.
Some of you are quite accustomed to being around power, though you may not fully realize that. You know whom to call to get something done, and you are comfortable analyzing public policy and taking a position.
We need you.
Some of you are not accustomed to be around power. You don’t know whom to call, and analyzing public policy and taking a position is not something you have much experience with.
We need you.
All of you are being asked to do something that, if you take this seriously, I guarantee will make you uncomfortable.
I am calling upon you tonight to recommit yourself to being together, and doing the very hard work of being together.
Let’s start by being gentle with each other. Let’s not be too quick to carve out our positions. I am asking us to see through each other’s eyes. Let’s not presume to talk for each other. I’m asking us to ease up on our own agendas, and listen closely to the presentations on the issues you will hear tonight.
And then I am asking you to do something more that is hard.
I am asking each of us to reach out of our familiar comfort zones by standing together to confront the structures and systems of this community that keep some people last. I am asking us to be passionate together, and not be satisfied with doing things the way they have always been done.
If we really do that together, I guarantee it will make us uncomfortable.
I am asking all of us to stand up with one voice, and to use our power as the beloved people of God that we share together.
None of us can do this alone. All of us can do this by our willingness to be uncomfortable together.
It is why the Nehemiah Action in the Spring is so crucial to what we do together. To fill the John Paul Jones Arena with people who have one passionate voice, for one evening, is nothing less than a gift from God.
If we can do this together – if we can share our power, we really will change this community. When we do that, all of us go first.
Last spring, we brought 1,537 people to the Nehemiah Action to speak with one voice and have an impact in our community.
If we were to bring the combined equivalent of just one day’s average worship attendance of our congregations, we would have 8,000 people in that arena. Think of the impact we would have with just half that many voices. Think of what we might accomplish together if 4,000 came.
And you know what? We already have accomplished much in six short years.
Many of our successes take more than one year.
It took two years to win expansion of pre-school education programs.
It took two years to win approval from the city and county for the healthy transitions program for the mentally ill.
It took three years to win approval of an affordable housing trust fund and the refurbishment or creation of hundreds of housing units for low-income people.
And now we are engaged in our most ambitious project yet, pushing our largest employers – the two major hospitals – and our vocational education system to create new opportunities for training people for entry-level jobs.
The issue is complex and we have more research to do, and more engagement with these institutions. We are far from through and we have miles to go together.
I will end with this: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, anyone can be great because anyone can be a servant. And that means everyone can go first because everyone here serves.
And that makes all of you great because all of you are servants TOGETHER.