By Kelsey Poole, Brooklyn Community Member
(This post is part 2 in a series on Civic Engagement written from the perspective of leaders within our community. Click here to see part 1.)
Being raised Catholic meant I followed a rigid set of rules around Jesus and prayer. It also meant I spent years serving within my church community. There were a variety of ways to serve the church such as volunteering at the CYO basketball concession stand, washing cars at a fundraiser, or serving in Sunday mass. Still, despite the fact I was always surrounded by my religious community, I often left feeling alone and isolated.
Overall I would sum up my Catholic upbringing as hollow. Despite that fact, I managed to hold onto my faith and sense of civic responsibility as I transitioned to college. College was a period of civic enlightenment for me. I started attending my first non-denominational church and volunteered my time at community-based events. My time at college shed light as to why I felt a void in serving the Catholic Church. It finally became clear to me that my church had been inwardly focused, investing in the spiritual lives of its congregation, but never asking the congregation to step outside of its own community.
The political scientist, Robert Putnam, helped me put into context the importance of community focused religious groups. In his book, Bowling Alone, Putnam outlines the trends between religion and civic engagement in post World War II America.
Putnam highlights the deep rooted connection between religious communities and philanthropy, explaining that “faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America.”
He goes on to say “Churchgoers provide an important incubator for civic skills, civic norms, community interests, and civic recruitment. Religiously active men and women learn to give speeches, run meetings, manage disagreements, and bear administrative responsibility…In part of these reasons, churchgoers are substantially more likely to be involved in secular organizations, to vote, and to practice politically in other ways, and to have deeper informal social connections.”
However, as you dive into 20th century trends, you can start see a shift. Over the past five decades people have either left religion altogether or have become more "privatized" and focused more on their individual spiritual experience. This shift towards individualism leaves a void not only in our churches but in the communities where we live. Summing up his points, Putnam writes: “Unless religious impulses find home in more than individual heart and soul, they will have few long-lasting public consequences.”
Jesus recognizes the multigenerational desire to be seen as an individual. He sees us as many members in one body. This message is echoed at Forefront when we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and to live out a just and generous expression of our faith. As Christians we are all called together, as individuals, to support our spirituality and each other through community, and to extend this call into our neighborhoods, our city, and our world.
So where do we begin?
Use your church as your foundation -
Fortunately, we are already part of a spiritual community that is living out just and generous expression of the Christian faith. Forefront offers a variety of ways to serve within our community and our city.
Forefront partners with a number of local and international organizations, you can check them out here.
Forefront does an amazing job of branching out into the community by participating in local events like Atlantic Antic and town halls on gun policy. Check out the calendar for more events.
Now use this experience to serve in your neighborhood...
Serving within Forefront helped me recognize the unique gifts God gave me. The more time I invest in my community the better I understand my gifts and the gifts my neighbors have to offer. Now I know that God calls me to serve to share my love of collaborating and creating with people. Embracing my individuality helped engender the strong relationship I have with Christianity today, and my faith motivates me to be a person who openly fights for social justice and serves within my neighborhood and city.
Be Creative -
Remember, you don’t have to be the “Leslie Knope pro-government service leader” type to get involved! There are endless opportunities to serve when you start embracing civic engagement as a way to simply engage with people. Joining an intramural sports league, inviting your neighbor to grab a drink at a local bar, hosting a bike tour around your neighborhood, or performing with your band at a community soup kitchen are all impactful forms of civic engagement. Be creative. How can you offer up your unique gifts and talents in service to others?
Serve, Post, Repeat -
We’ve all witnessed how social media can influence a national conversation around one issue. You too can use social media as a tool to create awareness around issues pressing your local neighborhood. Share your civic experiences online with photos and links to help get your network educated and involved. It matters more than you might think.
Vote. Vote. Vote! -
This one is directed at my generation. As often as Millennials voice their opinions online, they fail at voicing their opinions in the voting booth. The easiest way to get your message across is to VOTE! 46% of registered millennial voters turned out for the 2012 election and only 19.9% showed up at the polls during the 2014 midterm elections. If you are not registered to vote, it’s too late to register to vote in the 2016 presidential election. But there are important local, city, and statewide elections coming up next year that need your vote (like the race for NYC mayor) so register to vote here! Read up on national and local elections and #ROCKTHEVOTE.