TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods. By Sandhya Rani Jha. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2017. 144 pages.
Government has a significant role to play in creating a just, safe, and productive community, where everyone is included in the benefits of community. However, government cannot do it all. There is need for grassroots community efforts, and religious communities play a significant role in creating communities of healing and justice. Every faith community has gifts and resources to contribute, no matter how large or how small they might be. Indeed, a community of fifteen parishioners could be the catalyst for something rather powerful. The question is, will we hear the call and respond?
Perhaps what is needed are stories of ways in which faith communities have stepped into the gap. Before we get to the how to, there is need to see what is possible. Sandhya Jha is just that kind of story-teller. She is a Disciples of Christ minister (my denomination) and currently serves as Executive Director of the Oakland Peace Center, and effort that emerged out of First Christian Church of Oakland, which had about fifteen members, and which Sandhya served as pastor. This ministry, which provides space for some ninety community organizations that serve Oakland’s diverse community and its needs, is itself an illustration of what can happen with a bit of imagination and divine inspiration. This effort reflects Sandhya’s commitment to community service and the pursuit of justice. She has spent many years involved in various forms of community organizing, including a form known as "faith-rooted organizing." She believes that the needs of our communities require a commitment that will likely take fifty years to accomplish, so there is no time to waste. While there is a place for protests, which she has engaged in, they are not, she believes, sufficient. For progress to be truly made, communities themselves will need to take the lead. She believes that they have the skills and wisdom to do this, but there is need for regular people to discern those skills, and then find ways to implement them to solve issues in that are specific to those communities.