Solomon Community Temple United Methodist Church is a small black congregation that sits amid Milwaukee’s north side. What Solomon lacks in size, it makes up for in spirit! On any given Sunday, its members gather in its culturally decorated sanctuary to lift spirited praises to God for being safely brought through another week and for having the opportunity to “be in the service one more time”—a reference to a gospel song that is among the many that Solomon sings in worship. Solomon’s blended worship service is heavily saturated in the African American religious tradition, where call and response, spontaneous praise, testimonies, and tambourines are all essential parts. Solomon’s pastor, Afi Dobbins-Mays, preaches clear, energetic, justice-focused sermons that speak to the realities of the need for personal, congregational, and community renewal.
It was in the spirit of that renewal that Pastor Afi (pronounced ah-FEE) became interested in the 1K Churches resource, when one of Solomon’s newest members introduced it to her. That member was Stephen Marsh, a Criterion Institute staff member, who has been working with social change-makers in Milwaukee for the past several months, inviting them to use systems of finance to advance the social changes they seek.
Stephen and the Criterion team reached a broader audience from the faith-based community in Milwaukee with a three-session online presentation of the 1K Churches resource. After Pastor Afi and other Solomon members experienced that presentation, they knew that the 1K Churches Bible Study needed to be taught at Solomon and opened to other Methodist congregations nearby. They invited Stephen to lead the study.
They chose to offer the study for the four weeks of February in honor of Black History Month. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because the discussions at each session were filled with reminders of the intersectional nature of black history and institutional racism. Old family stories about money were tinged with the realities of poverty and economic oppression. Economic reflection led to dissections of the systems of finance and to deeper understanding of how women and people of color are intentionally discouraged from creative participation. Sharing the history of their predecessors and information about their businesses fostered greater recognition and appreciation of black community businesses and entrepreneurs. The 1K Churches resources reminded those present of the community-building power they have both individually and congregationally. It was inspiring and hopeful.
As the study began, Solomon did not make an initial commitment to administer a micro-loan to a community business when it was over. The Bible study was commenced for its own sake, to encourage participants to imagine what God’s economy and their participation in it could look like. The loan and its possibilities were never far from the parameters of the discussion, but it was evident that the power of the study itself was a source of growth for those who were present. The study expanded their imagination about possibilities for how congregations could be more visible economic partners in their community.
An important transformational moment came at the beginning of the third session, when the class came on the heels of an emergency finance meeting that was held by the leaders of the congregation—some who were part of the 1K study. Solomon’s available finances were not enough to sustain present ministry and some devastating cuts were going to have to be made. But even with the specter and the consequences of those cuts looming, a decision was made during that session to make a loan, not knowing where the money for the loan was going to come from. It was a courageous and faithful decision. Discussion that evening also led to possibilities of partnering with a nearby Lutheran congregation who is considering using the 1K Churches resource and sharing the community benefits that making the loan could reap. Fortunately, through the Siebert Lutheran Foundation’s generous support of this work, there are monies available to be used for micro-loans by congregations in the Greater Milwaukee area interested in participating in 1K Churches.
During the final session, participants were asked what they now see when they imagine God’s economy. Some of the answers included: health care for all; the ability to barter; creative freedom; dignity; economic vitality in depressed communities; fulfilling work; improved relationships; hope; and justice. To a person, all were moved by the 1K Churches material, by the discussions and ideas that it fostered, and by the new possibilities that it helped them to imagine.
We will keep you posted on what Milwaukee Methodists are motivated to do with the inspiration of the 1K Churches Bible Study resource!