From hallway conversations to stirring up good trouble, the St. Paul Christian Action Group has continued to march on with their mission during the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Paul Christian Action group was formed in late 2019 to bring attention and change specific issues in the Methodist congregation. Paul Wesslund, one of the founding members of Christian Action, says the group was formed to dive deeper into theological concepts in the Methodist denomination.
“In a hallway conservation with a staff member, I said ‘I have this idea to make some trouble. Wanna grab coffee?’ She was enthusiastic and brought along someone else,” said Wesslund, “The thing about our congregation, we have a gazillion different projects going on. This group wanted to focus on specific ways to make a difference in different kinds of social policy.”
According to their website, the group is made up of about 25 St. Paul Methodist church members who are interested in making a difference on social issues. The three main issues focused on are: the United Methodist Church’s doctrines related to human sexuality (including gay marriage and ordination), environmental justice issues (such as the climate crisis), and racial justice issues.
“Our church is pretty diverse theologically, some people get frustrated by that, but to me, that is a huge plus of the church,” said Wesslund, “It's a chance for us to find points of view other than ours. Even with particular issues, with different levels of enthusiasm about it, it gives us a chance to do a better job at spreading the word because we can be in close contact with people who may not share our enthusiasm or that point of view, but we can be in touch with them because they are sitting in the pew next to us.”
Their first environmental event was right before the pandemic hit, on January 24, 2020. The group screened the movie, Call of the Forest, about how planting trees can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The event brought close to 200 people from St. Paul and the Louisville community to hear from Louisville organizations that promote the planting and protection of trees.
Wesslund said hosting the event taught them several things. “It [showed] us early on the value of relationships; [that] people were really interested in this topic and would come out on a Friday night for something like that, and what we attributed the success of that event to was that we connected to a lot of different groups that were focused on planting trees,” said Wesslud.
When looking for other ways to advocate locally for environmental issues, Christian Action took notice of Louisville Metro Council passing a resolution to move Louisville to 100% renewable energy. On February 6, 2020, after a 17-month campaign by a group of citizen leaders, Louisville Metro Council passed “A RESOLUTION FOR 100% CLEAN RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY FOR METRO GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS BY 2030.” This interest led to a new partnership with 100% Renewable Energy Alliance of Louisville—100% REAL. 100% REAL has been one of the main groups advocating for Louisville Metro Council to approve the resolution.
Christian Action has been working with REAL to host quarterly sessions on how to both advocate for the resolution and provide updates on the city’s plan to move forward. Their first session was in November 2020 and around 75 people attended the event. In 2021, the events are planned for March, June, September, and December.
“Moving toward 100% renewable energy is a lot of work. A lot of activism required there,” said Wesslund, “We are thinking that with similar formats and similar content, there will be plenty to talk about and plenty for other people to be involved in. We need people going to every Council meeting.”
Christian Action joined Kentucky IPL as a Green Spirit partner community in 2020. “We are a faith-based group trying to make a difference in the environment, so duh!,” said Wesslund. Kentucky IPL was able to partner with Christian Action and REAL to provide technical support through the use of facilitation online and Zoom platform at the events.
No matter what issue the Christian Action group is focusing on, relationships and connections are at the heart of every decision.
“It’s important in two ways. One, it’s the best way to influence people. Activism is about influencing people,” said Wesslund, “You’re not going to convince anybody by throwing bible verses at them. It’s about people’s relationships with the church, and with each other, and getting to know people, and getting to know their stories.”
“In terms of getting people together, making things happen, and changing minds, relationships - that’s the way you need to go,” said Wesslund.
To get connected to the St. Paul Christian Action group, visit their website at https://www.stpaulchurchky.org/christian-action-group/ or contact Paul Wesslund at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is meeting by Zoom every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. and it welcomes anyone who would like to be a part of its work. You can also get connected to Paul Wesslund at PaulWesslund.com - where you can get more details about his book Small Business, Big Heart—How One Family Redefined the Bottom Line.