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At Annual Meeting 2018 in Yakima

Speaker shares power of community organizing

Bishop Dwayne Royster, pastor of the Faith United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., works as the political director of the PICO National Network there to prepare congregations to move beyond Sunday mornings and to engage people in order to change the world by changing local, state and national policies.

Bishop Duane Royster heads POWER organizing effort.

PICO, a national network of progressive faith-based community organizations, is about prophetic witness.

PICO was founded in 1972 by a Jesuit priest as the Pacific Institute for Community Organization. In 1984, it shifted to a congregation-based model. In 2004, its acronym was changed to stand for People Improving Communities through Organizing. In May 2018, it changed its name to Faith in Action.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to transform the country and world,” Bishop Dwayne said at the PNC Annual Meeting, praying for God to “use us, fill us, empower us and release us into the world to do your will.”

He said he wears a collar and suit in D.C. so he can enter doors of power.

In April 2018, he said he works for “our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews the children of the community and for everyone” to know they have what they need in their community to thrive—assured of a roof over their heads, food, decent jobs and enough money to retire and live on.

“I believe I serve the sovereign God of the universe, the creator of heaven and earth who sent his son to encounter humanity and in that encounter to realize we have some issues,” Bishop Dwayne said.

“According to the Word of God, Jesus said we would do greater works than he did. God empowers us to not only to be about witnessing but also about winning, so that we can create what God imagined the world to look like,” he said.

“We have that power when we connect with each other and build relationships with folks who are not like us,” he said. “The story of building a tower and causing confusion of language is cute, but the story in Acts when the Spirit comes and the disciples hear and start to spread Word in every language is about power, he explained.

“You have the power to transform the areas you live in, to re-imagine your communities, state and to work that all may live,” Bishop Dwayne said. “We can’t do it by ourselves. God desires us to be in deep relationships that have the capacity to transform the world. God called us to change the damn world!”

He said that many people feel like they are living in hell, with people losing their houses, young pitted against seniors, jobs not paying enough, seniors having to choose between food or medicine.

Bishop Duane Royster challenges people to live into liberating love so they can change the world.

“People wonder where is the church, where is God,” he said. “Sometimes we wonder, too.

“God sends revival winds. If ever there are crises it is now. God shows up in you,” he said. “I believe God desires the faith community to own our faith and power.”

While businesses are into making profits, and politicians prioritize being re-elected, the church and communities of faith care about people.

When he was in Philadelphia, the churches across denominations began working together to organize, witness and rebuild. We met at the church across from City Hall. We started to have conversations with people to get below the surface,” Bishop Dwayne said. “Most did not know each other. What keeps you up at night?” they asked. “What troubles your soul?”

About 1,200 came to listening sessions for three months. They compiled information.

“We started to grow, not because we were told we would be saved, but because the church cared about people,” he said. “We worked, learned and organized, putting people first, not just getting to know them, but knowing them in a new way, the way God would want. We went deep. I love you. I care about you. I see you. You have value and worth. We talked of values and relationships.

“What does it mean to have a revolution of imagination with love that can change the whole damn world?” Bishop Dwayne asked.

He answered that it means “God is present with and among us at an 8 a.m. worship and at 9 a.m. talking to deepen relationships.

In another PNC Annual Meeting session, he challenged as a myth the notion that institutions are dead, communities are gone and neighborhoods are no more.

“The myth supports might makes right, so to counter it, we need to organize institutions, communities and neighborhoods,” Bishop Dwayne said.

“Interdependence matters. It can change lives and bring God’s will on earth,” he said, pointing out that the idea of independence may lead people to fight each other rather than fighting injustice.

“Community, love and connections change the world. The power of communities changes the world helping us to dismantle racism, excise violence and smash patriarchy,” said Bishop Dwayne, who grew up Methodist, went to a Lutheran seminary.

In Philadelphia, he served as executive director of POWER, a PICO organization about putting to faith in action.

POWER is a multi-faith organization with Christians, Jews and Muslims. It’s not like some interfaith organizations that silence the name of Jesus.

An African-American pastor can pray in the name of Jesus. It’s a teachable moment. For the black church, Jesus is the suffering servant, beaten and threatened badly by his co-religionists and political system.

“Muslims and Jews are our brothers and sisters. They understand who Jesus was,” Bishop Dwayne said. “Given that the Middle East is an Afro-Asiatic region, Jesus likely was person of color. He could understand black folks and black liberation theology.”

Bishop Dwayne used the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, as an example of Jesus sharing liberating love, challenging someone and breaking rules. His conversation with her, revealing he knows the depth of her truth but loves her rather than judges her, leads her to leave her water jar and run back to tell her community.

“If we can’t speak the truth in church, why go to church,” he said. “His conversation with her transforms the city.

“Community organizing on the next level is evangelizing to find someone’s pain and offer a way home to healing and wholeness, not judgment,” Bishop Dwayne said.

“Jesus opened imagination to a different path to knowledge of our own truth that does not bind us to roles,” he said. “I’m a black man in America. That has daily challenges. I may be pulled over—driving from Yakima back to Seattle. It’s liberating understanding that truth and living boldly.

“The woman at the well met a person who did not judge her. She left her anxiety and went back to town where she was rejected and said she met a man who said he was the Messiah. People came and encountered Jesus. The whole town began to believe,” he said.

“Who are the folks you have to go to talk to?” he asked. “Who are the people who need to wrestle, to understand, to be transformed as community?

“Sometimes we need to stop worrying about being nice, faithful people, we need to speak the truth in love,” Bishop Dwayne said. “Sometimes the Holy Spirit can be tough. Conversations revealed pain, struggle and hurt. We can’t get to transformation unless we get uncomfortable.

“Sometimes we need to leave our jars behind. Our jars may hold us back,” he said. “We can’t get to liberating love unless let go of our jars.

Finally, he suggests that, “we be willing to break the rules. Often we have to break rules to see transformation in community. It may offend family, friends, congregations, but we need to take risks in the pulpit and live liberation. It’s not worth staying in a place toxic to our souls.

“The church is about liberating all people, so we need to break the rules and talk with people we are not to talk with. We need to talk with our enemies,” Bishop Dwayne said.

He believes that God’s power of redemption can reach 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It will not happen if people do not share stories and hear stories.

“I founded POWER as part of the challenge that blows organizations up. A grant from a faith-based foundation said we were to work under certain teachings, but we had priests sit on one side of a table and LGBTQ clergy on the other side.

“There will be days we will march the same side of the street working together, but there will be days where we are across the street because we disagree, but because of our relationships, when we are not able to agree  we will be able to see and speak our truth without demonizing each other,” he said.

POWER decided to organize on education when 65 Philadelphia schools were going to be closed.

“Organizing is about liberating love with a place for everyone at the table,” Bishop Dwayne said. “God’s love for all of us helps us love as well as relate to each other. God calls us to move beyond the world as it is; to move past and see the world as it could be and go do something about it.

“Go back to your communities and neighborhoods and tell them about someone who wants to create the world to work for the good,” he challenged.

He is on Facebook at dwayne.royster?fref=ts and Twitter at ddroyster.


Pacific Northwest United Church News © Summer 2018


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