September 2010

Don't inspire guilt, deliver hope

From August 2009 to July 2010 I was a part of the Relational Evangelism Pilot Project, a program of the Diocese of Massachusetts. As part of my work I ran an economic justice campaign, the Hope in Action Campaign, at Emmanuel Church in downtown Boston.

Emmanuel is a small congregation of around 100-150 mostly middle-class, skeptical and arts-loving “over-‘40s.” Our campaign resulted in eighty individuals from the church committing time or money to support the Boston Public Quartet (BPQ), a small non-profit music program serving elementary school children in a Boston public school that provides no other arts education or exposure of any kind. 

Here are the things that distinguished our campaign from all the other guilt-inspiring, despair-delivering, email asks that you and I see in our inboxes every day.

First: if you want to get something done, form a team of diverse and committed individuals, and work together like a team. Trust one another, share responsibility, hold one another to your commitments. Our group was a motley crew of young adults: a choir member, a sexton, Boston Public Quartet’s founder-director, an atheist graduate student with a commitment to economic justice and parishioners committed to young adult leadership. We were diverse, but our common commitment made us a team.

Second: get and stay in touch with why you’re doing what you’re doing. Asking people for things is hard, so you wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t important. Remind yourselves repeatedly of the deeper meaning behind the work. What will it mean to the life of the church, the surrounding community and the work of God to raise the money you want to raise? The moment our team really became a team instead of a gaggle of well-intentioned but confused explorers was the moment we decided to set our sights on the incredible need of BPQ students coupled with the incredible beauty of its work. It inspired us and nearly everyone in the parish to make a difference.

Third: develop and utilize real relationships to meet your goal. Schedule one-to-one meetings. Sit down for coffee and talk with folks. Learn about their passions, and share with them why you’re passionate about and committed to the work you’re doing with your team. If this is something they care about too, your passion will be infectious. Human connection is a very deep thing. It can’t be faked or replicated, and there is no shortcut to creating that connection. Finding a mutual concern can create a genuine bond, loyalty and a sense of shared purpose. And doing this work in a parish paves the way for deeper community development.

Fourth: set concrete, ambitious and realizable goals. Doing so will help you measure your progress and hold yourselves accountable for doing the work well enough that it produces results. It will also be inspiring to the people you’re hoping to get to pledge. This can be uncomfortable, and our team never really took on the challenge of creating and holding ourselves to concrete goals because we didn’t want to have to say no to anyone or to ask anyone for more, but it hurt our final result. When people in the parish asked us, “How’s it going?” we couldn’t say, “We’re ‘x’ percent of the way there.” When supporters asked us, “How much do you need?” we were never able to say, “We need ‘x’ more dollars by ‘x date.” Not having those goals clear suggested that we weren’t committed to achieving anything in particular, even while we were trying to maintain the impression, “Whatever you can give, we’ll accept.”

Fifth: set a discrete timeline. A campaign is an exhausting thing. Setting a beginning and ending date for the campaign creates holy time for doing the work. It creates urgency in your parish and gives the team the promise of respite once the campaign is over.

Sixth: Celebrate! Just as Easter brings light after the trials of Lent, celebration is an important part of any campaign. It allows your team and your community to acknowledge and honor your accomplishments as a collective and it brings you together as a group of people committed to doing important, challenging work to reach a cherished goal.

Campaigns are challenging by their nature. They are in many ways at odds with the way we live our lives, and they are intended to be. They are holy times: time to struggle and grow as individuals and communities; to ask deep, difficult questions and to live in close contact with the answers; to develop public rather than private relationships; to cherish commitment; to measure goals; to celebrate; to stretch ourselves in the name of God’s work. What better place to take on this challenging work than in our faith communities?

Emilia Allen was the 2009-2010 Relational Evangelist at Emmanuel Church in Boston, working with a team of young adults to run an economic justice campaign, which supported the music education efforts of the Boston Public Quartet in Mattapan, a neighborhood of Boston. Emilia is also active in Boston's thriving opera and theatre communities, working primarily as a stage director.

This article is part of the September 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Pledging