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Statewide advocacy and action agencies unite

After decades of working together on a common agenda for public policy, the Washington Association of Churches (WAC) and Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington (LPPO) voted on June 11 to merge and form the Faith Action Network: A Partnership for the Common Good (FAN).

Alice Woldt and Paul Benz-FAN

Alice Woldt and Paul Benz, co-directors of FAN

The new organization brings together the two agencies’ staffs and constituencies for their mission as “a statewide partnership of faith communities striving for a just and sustainable world through community building, education and courageous public action.”

Both groups have been working together ecumenically, so the decision came after several years of discussion and prayerful discernment, said the Rev. Carol Jensen, former chair of the LPPO council, and the Rev. Sharon Moe, former chair of the WAC Board.

“It is good stewardship of limited resources to bring two organizations with such similar purposes together,” they said.

Three members of each organization are new members of the FAN governing board, which also includes three people—one each from the Jewish, African-American and Hispanic communities.

A 30-member advisory council, which includes former boards of the WAC and LPPO, will also include a diverse range of faith groups.

This summer, the WAC moved from University Temple United Methodist Church to the LPPO office at Denny Park Lutheran Church at 766 John St. in Seattle.  The WAC phone number has been transferred to that office. The websites are in the process of being merged from thewac.org and lppowa.org to fanwa.org.

Alice Woldt, former executive director of the WAC, and the Rev. Paul Benz, former executive director of the LPPO, will continue as full time co-directors until the end of 2011, when Alice retires.  Kelly Rose is the coordinator of communication and development in Seattle and David Hacker is director of congregational relations in Yakima.

Paul said that the new organization will continue to be the state public policy office for the ELCA and will continue to reach out to include all denominations, and will make a new effort to reach out to people of all other faiths.

Paul and Alice are finding there is much work to bringing the two agencies together—from organizing programs to re-establishing a bulk nonprofit mailing permit, merging files and databases, and interviewing stakeholders.

“I think the new FAN is building new energy around the agenda that seeks to create transformation in society,” said Alice.  “There is also new energy around spreading the word in new ways with social media and working more at a grassroots level.

We seek to be a more effective voice for social justice as we start the Faith Action Network.  Effectiveness and stewardship are the key words behind the decision of the Washington Association of Churches and the LPPO to combine forces as organizations with similar agendas and concerns.”

The LPPO celebrated its 25th anniversary five years ago.  It started in the 1980s when the ELCA became one of two national churches—the Roman Catholic being the other—to fund state public policy offices, in addition to its advocacy work in Washington, D.C.  The offices are funded through the ELCA’s Hunger Appeal.  Efforts of Paul and the State Council have made LPPO a full-time ministry with a small staff.

“FAN will continue the commitment to raise funds for a quality staff that reaches out to congregations, individuals and community partners to build effective organizations, networks and movements that advocate on critical issues of the day,” Paul asserted.

While some LPPO constituents may be concerned that the loss of the Lutheran identity, which helps the LPPO reach Lutheran congregations, Moe and Jensen assured that the FAN will continue to be the ELCA’s public policy office, and the ELCA will continue to support this venture.

For some WAC constituents, there may be concern about how judicatories and ecumenical organizations find their place at the table, but bishops and judicatory leaders have been supportive of the merger, and ecumenical bodies, such as the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Associated Ministries of Pierce County, were part of the decision-making process.

“FAN will continue to approach its educational and organizing work in congregations by  drawing on the scriptural, theological and historical roots for advocacy within the congregations and faith traditions,” said Moe and Jensen. “Faithful advocates in communities from Spokane to Port Angeles have been teaching us that education and action for the common good are more effective ecumenically and in interfaith partnership than as individual faith communities.”

The board will work on a future staffing plan and will combine the administrative functions of the two organizations. Because the LPPO exists under the Lutheran Community Services Northwest, the new organization is using the corporate status of the WAC.

FAN will continue to promote education and community-building projects and activities to build relationships among faith communities and other community groups on shared concerns, such as the Veterans Support Network and the new Mental Health Network.

Advocacy work will include training and organizing faith communities to participate in public policy advocacy and social-justice witness based on values of the constituent communities.

Another program focus will be on cultural transformation, using the power of constituents’ shared theological resources and community relationships to frame public discourse, “promote progressive values” and inspire action for justice, said Alice. It will include training, resources and organizing to support cultural engagement.

Both organizations have actively educated the faith community and state legislators on ways to reduce hunger, homelessness and poverty, increase affordable housing, reform the criminal justice system, care for the environment, promote civil and human rights, public education, a state safety net and immigration reform.  Priorities on issues are established each year.

For information, call 206-625-9790, email fan@fanwa.org or visit fanwa.org.

Paul Benz and Alice Woldt continue as leaders as staff needs are reviewed

Alice Woldt and Paul Benz
Alice Woldt and Paul Benz

Staffing the new Faith Action Network through 2011 are current leaders of the Lutheran Public Policy Office and Washington Association of Churches, the Rev. Paul Benz and Alice Woldt.

Paul attributes his passion for social justice to growing up the son of a small farmer engaged in grassroots organizing for economic justice and in local politics in Minnesota, and from stories of his great grandmother’s role in rebelling against the U.S. treaty with the Blackfeet Indians in North Carolina.

The Lutheran Public Policy Office, where Paul has been director for 11 years, has been active advocating for farm policies for a sustainable agricultural system in this state.  It has also been consistent in advocating for 10 years for restoring federal recognition of the Duwamish Tribe—taken away at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration.

His college education took him to Washington, D.C., Texas and Arkansas, before he completed his degree in religion and political science in 1979 at Seattle Pacific University.  He served in 1980 on the campaign staff for Senator Warren Magnuson before going to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, where he earned a master of divinity degree in 1985.

His first call to a small parish in Appalachia in Kentucky introduced him to social justice issues involving disparities of wealthy and poor people, with wealth concentrated in a few hands.

His wife Linda’s work in domestic violence led them to Seattle where she took a job as executive director of the King County Domestic Violence Agency and he was called to serve a Lutheran parish and to direct the LPPO 11 years ago.

Alice served 17 years on the executive staff of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, involved in administration, social justice and public policy. For two years, she was its interim executive director before leaving in 2004.

She grew up Lutheran in a South Dakota farming community and earned a bachelor’s degree at South Dakota State University.

Alice, who has a master’s in public administration from Seattle University, was a teacher and organizer in Illinois before moving to Seattle in 1975.  She began working with the Seattle school district, studying the impact of school cultures on neighborhoods. 

In the 1980s, she became active in Plymouth Congregational UCC.  In 2004, she also started to attend Trinity United Methodist Church in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle where she lives.  She holds dual membership.

The WAC, Alice explained, is in place to help people address emerging needs in faith and life.

“There have been ups and downs in the ecumenical movement over the years.  The movement has depended on mainline churches to survive, but in recent years mainline churches have felt less need to work ecumenically, drawing into their silos to protect their denominational structures,” Alice said.

For information, call 206-625-9790 or email fan@fanwa.org.