This month three congregations will be kicking off "House Meeting Campaigns" during services. House meetings are small group conversations to surface issues and new leaders…it is one of the primary organizing tools our congregations and institutions have utilized. House meetings campaigns can engage 400-500 parishioners in conversations within a few months, and beyond developing leaders and identifying issues, can help build a relational and "covenantal" culture in congregations. Two other congregations, Dolores Catholic Church and Santa Barbara Catholic Church have already completed house meeting campaigns.
Each year Austin Interfaith Pastors and leaders hold a drive to raise financial investment for the organizing work from local corporations. This year's corporate campaign was held in March, and leaders already raised $24,500, and have several proposals submitted and still waiting for a reply. Leaders have nearly doubled last year's total. This was truly an organizational campaign, with nearly every member institution represented by at least one leader.
Leaders, pastor, and staff at Dolores Catholic Church held a congregational assembly to ratify a local agenda of issues which emerged from the 35 house meetings (small group meetings) conducted at Dolores. The agenda includes Youth Programs, Immigration, Education in Faith, Community Building and Collaboration, and Living Wages. The next step is to have all parishioners to sign-on to support the agenda and begin action.
Congregational leaders from St. Ignatius, Prince of Peace, and San Jose worked with leaders from Travis Heights Elementary (an Alliance School) and other allies from the neighborhood to improve living conditions at Travis Park Apartments. Working with Cong. Lloyd Doggett and HUD, leaders put pressure on the owners to fix leaky sewage pipes, install security lights, repair A/C units, and clean thick mold from many of the units. These conditions were resulting in increased respiratory illnesses and absenteeism among many of the children attending Travis Heights Elementary.
Leaders at Santa Barbara Catholic Church in East Travis County as well as Austin Interfaith pastors and leaders came together to get a $475,000 water infrastructure deal passed by County Commissioners Court and Hornsby Bend Utility. After 40 families had been without running water for 5 years, Santa Barbara joined Austin Interfaith last year and began organizing to secure this money. It took a lot of house meetings, block walks, and meetings with public officials, but all 40 families will have running water by the end of the summer!