Saturday, December 11, 2010

A conversation?

Wednesday night, the church I attend (Fargo-Moorhead Unitarian-Universalist Church) held a meeting for the purpose of determining a social justice issue for the congregation to commit to. I've had random thoughts about the process we used, and maybe I'll have time to sort out those thoughts later on. Generally, it included a brainstorming activity which generated a few dozen issues/programs to consider; a narrowing-down voting process which winnowed these few dozen to a handful; time-limited discussion of each area coming from the primary vote; a second vote to pick one issue area.

Support for families involved with child welfare was my contribution to the brain-storming session--and it did survive the first vote. During the discussion period the woman sitting across from me at my table turned around to ask me what exactly I had in mind about supporting families involved with child welfare--because she is a CPS investigator and child welfare caseworker. I think she's new to the congregation, but she had referred to he job during the pre-meeting pizza supper. That caught my attention, since I went to the meeting with the conscious purpose of getting this issue on the table of possibilities. I didn't mention this during the suppertime conversation, since our table topic at the moment was quirks of our jobs (specifically, punch in/punch out requirements).

The woman at my church looks every inch the social worker--particularly the CPS social worker. Her hair is cut short, her clothes feminine but comfortable, practical, and conservative. A yellow cardigan topped her outfit. When on call and summoned late at night to pick up children being removed from their home, she drives to the county courthouse to punch in by thumbprint, then to the small town, farmstead, or street in the county seat to fetch the children.

Her response to my comments about my proposed social justice issue felt like a challenge. It was rather abrupt--and also punctuated by her statement that she, herself, is a CPS worker. She must have felt challenged herself--especially as someone who is new to the congregation, maybe she suddenly wondered what or where she was getting into. For that matter, stepping into a UU congregation--including a 120-mile round trip to join this meeting to pick out a social justice issue--doesn't conform to stereotype.

Our congregation includes a retired juvenile referee who has made decisions to place children in legal custody of social services or terminate parental rights, along with her husband, a retired pediatrician who is highly critical of putting kids in foster care in nearly all situations. And myself, a mom whose son spent a very long time in foster homes, and thus became an activist in any way open to me to challenge child welfare practices. At least one congregant is raising her grandchild, another sought for awhile to gain custody of a nephew she felt was living in an unstable situation, and at least one does foster care. I wonder what a conversation among us all might be like.

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