Community standards for preventing violence to be revealed June 29 - Catholic Courier

Community standards for preventing violence to be revealed June 29

When people from throughout the City of Rochester and its suburbs spoke during a series of listening sessions about the causes of violence, their critique of religious institutions and clergy was withering, said the Rev. Roderic Frohman, associate pastor of Third Presbyterian Church and moderator of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley.

Clergy, on the whole, weren’t doing much to stop the root causes of violence in the community, according to those who spoke during the sessions.

"It really hit me in a soft spot in my stomach," Rev. Frohman said. "Of all the institutions to make a positive impact, this said religious institutions aren’t doing much. The general perception is that we are sitting in the pews Sunday morning, and that we are not in the streets each week."

The program to explore the roots of violence began in November 2006 and was sponsored by the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, Faith Community Alliance and the Baptist Ministers Alliance. More than 500 people spoke at eight forums in 2006 and 2007 about the roots of and solutions to violence.

A report of the meetings was compiled and distilled into 10 community standards intended to prevent violence. The standards will be unveiled during a program celebrating Rochester’s "Beloved Community" from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 29, at the South Avenue Recreation Center, Rochester.

The event will include music from This Other Life, Badea and Black August, and a performance by Slam High Poets. Attendees are invited to bring a picnic and lawn chairs. Foodlink will provide beverages.

In addition to listing the standards, the event will offer information on how people and such specific groups as religious institutions can live out the standards.

"We need to move out of the pews and into the streets," the Rev. Richard Myers, president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, said of what religious institutions can do.

The community standards are a call to return to a society of the past, where communities policed themselves; when funerals were for the elderly, not young people; when front porches were gathering spots; and when the worst punishment was having your mother find out what you had done, said Melanie Funchess, a member of the Coalition for Community Standards and Restoration Church of God.

"This is not what a group of people in a room have said," Funchess said. "This is the collective voice of people in the community that this is how we choose to live."

The standards are:

* We use language that respects everyone.

* Every child is our own.

* We move out of our pews (homes, cubicles, etc.) and into the streets.

* Our county is a community of shared power.

* Law is the servant of a loving community.

* We build families.

* Everyone works; all work is valued; each has resources to live with dignity.

* Every school is a safe community of learners.

* We build front-porch neighborhoods.

* We foster healing communities with all who are touched by violence.

Frohman noted that organizers tried to ensure diversity of viewpoints by hosting listening sessions in a diversity of locations. For example, sessions were held at a variety of churches throughout the area, including in December 2006 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, and also at such places as Monroe County Jail and Rochester City School Without Walls.

"We accepted the testimony of people who came, and we did not sort for different types of people," Frohman said. "We asked people to testify on what they have heard."

Participants said more than 40 percent of the root causes of violence stemmed from such systemic problems as poverty, dysfunctional justice, dysfunctional families, few jobs, poor education, few services, racism, child abuse, lack of mental-health services, gun violence, poor health, drugs, turf wars, problems with police and jailed parents. More than 15 percent of the causes were identified as being personal, such as anger, aggression, hopelessness and despair.

Participants identified 64 things that religious institutions could do to help reduce violence, such as restoring a sense of community; 145 things individuals could do, including personal change and community building; and more than 40 things that governments, police and schools could do to change systems that perpetuate violence.

Specific suggestions to religious institutions and individuals included opening religious institutions for community use, collaborating with block clubs and community organizations, promoting community events, teaching restorative justice and forgiveness, providing after-school tutoring, adopting a local school for volunteer involvement, developing congregational exchange programs, addressing violence in sermons and religious publications, making worship relevant to youths and mentoring parents.

Frohman noted that the standards represent a movement to turn away from individualism and isolationism, and to instead collectively build a better community.

Deborah Cummings-Brown, executive director of Families and Friends of Murdered Children and Victims of Violence, agreed, saying individuals often may believe that violence doesn’t affect them. Yet it is the community’s job to say that all violence affects them and will not be tolerated, she said.

"Just one murder is one too much for me," Cummings-Brown stated.

This story was updated on June 29, 2008.

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