On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of learning from and being accompanied by Abbigail Hull of the ELCA’s Advocacy office.
We began the day in the ELCA’s office learning about advocacy, how it ties directly into our baptismal promises and confirmation commitments, where the ELCA’s advocacy office direction comes from, and how to advocate for others (and ourselves) with our elected officials.
At the beginning of the morning, the majority of us in the group shared that we had limited experience with advocacy and weren’t necessarily comfortable with it. Abbi gave us an approach to use and coached us as we prepared to meet with the MN congress members that the office had made appointments with for us.
We split into two groups as we prepared for our visits. We read bios about the two congress people we would meet, paying careful attention to the committees they served on and had a better chance to influence decisions.
Half of our group prepared to discuss the great need for mental health services in our public schools with Senator Tina Smith. The other group prepared to ask Representative Jim Hagedorn to support the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill currently before the House. By the end of our planning session, the group was excited (with a healthy dose of anxiety) as we made our way to meet with our politicians.
Our afternoon experience was incredible, to say the least. With just a few exceptions, it was the young people on our trip who did all of the talking.
Parents, grandparents, Zumbro members — you should be so proud of the way in which our youth represented our congregation and community. They spoke with clarity and confidence. They took risks and practiced vulnerability as they spoke from their hearts. And they articulated their faith as the basis for their convictions. From stories ranging from personal experiences of struggling with depression and needing the mental health help provided in our schools, to speaking with passion about the summer meal programs needed by the children they work with at Rochester’s summer school age child care program, our young people had every adult in the room in tears.
The experiences with Senator Smith and the staff member from Representative Hagedorn’s office were vastly different. We experienced empathy and compassion. We experienced what it felt like to be listened to, and what it felt like to be disregarded. We experienced authenticity, and political guardedness. I suspect that all of us formed opinions for how we might vote in future elections. Simply put, we experienced being a part of our nation’s governmental process … and we all learned a lot.
Marcus C. shares: “I leaned how much you can do before you turn 18 in the political system. I learned that you have a chance to talk to your representative (or some one who works with them) to let them know how you feel about what they are doing. I was shocked when we did this, that you could do this. This experience taught me a lot and that we can do more in mission that just serving.”
Jack K. also shares what he learned: “Today I learned that I really don’t want to be a politician at all (politics is confusing!). The most powerful moment was just listening to Tina and Ashley talk and realizing that even though she’s a US senator, she is still just a person amongst us.“
Chaperone Sue Jenkins shares: “Meeting Tina Smith was powerful for me. I was impressed by how special she is, and also how ordinary. She impressed me with the importance of giving her information and motivation, through emails and phone calls, to work for justice.”
Ashley S. agrees with Sue. “Meeting with Tina Smith was incredible. She impressed me by how she hung on to every word we said, especially the more difficult aspects, and she listened and heard what we were saying.”
We couldn’t agree more with Bob Jenkins’ reflection: “Today our Zumbro young adults did a Holy Spirit-led job presenting issues of importance to them to Representative Hagedorn’s staff and to Senator Smith. It was such a blessing for me to be able to watch and hear them speak.”
Thank you, parents, for raising such wonderful people. We are honored to experience this with them.
Jen and Pastor Lisa
p.s. Zumbro members, parents, and friends — we have found a wonderful gift in adding Jen Gruendler to our staff team. I hope you’ll find some time in the coming months to get to know her. She’s incredible … and that’s a feeling shared by all of us on the trip. -Pastor Lisa