It began on the Hiawatha, Milwaukee to Chicago, Train….

It was the conversation that Dennis Jacobsen and I enjoyed for years.

For years we took the train to Chicago to attend meetings of  a national clergy caucus. Like us, these clergy led their congregations into faith-based community organizing.  Our conversations on the train were challenging and stimulating. Then we moved on to other phases of our journeys. Though I was over 70 years of age, I told people I was taking “an extended sabbatical.”

After awhile I wondered how Jake was doing. I missed our conversations on the train. In an email exchange, we decided to SKYPE one another. Our  conversation was still stimulating and challenging. We wondered about our colleagues and decided to invite some of them to SKYPE with us a month later. Several colleagues enriched the conversation on the next call. We kept inviting people to our monthly calls until we became a small but diverse group of “senior” organizers.

There are some themes in our discussions. We have been graced with blessed lives. We remember years of challenging but satisfying work. We have time to pick up some of the pursuits we had to lay down because of our work. We travel. We savor walks in the woods. We have family around us and time to renew old friendships. We are enjoying the blessings of long lives.

Most of us are working in some way, but our relationships to the primary communities we led, have changed. Sometimes we feel adrift. We have experiences to share and gifts to give. Sometimes we are not sure of where and how to give our gifts. Some of the things we fought for still stand; Others are under severe attack by the rising tide of inequality that continues to drive poverty in our cities and in the country. We wonder how and where to lead, but we never wonder why. Our  commitment to justice is rooted in our faith and values.

Besides taking time to update our relationships, we discussed issues that concern us. We pondered the past and the future of organizing. We wondered if we had anything to give the coming generation of organizers. We discussed books like America’s Original Sin. We pondered white privilege and ways of fostering congregational discussions of racism that lead to action.

We outgrew SKYPE and moved on to “Go To Meeting.” While our calls were more technologically satisfying, many wanted a  longer face- to-face meeting. Maybe a day together would give us more time to sort out what has been happening in our country. Maybe in a longer period of time we could discern how God was calling us to use our freedom and our experience as organizers in times like these.

We had many questions:  Should we just keep the calls going?  How can what we are doing strengthen our ongoing organizing efforts? Could we use other social media to strengthen our connection to one another? Could we use these tools to enhance what we know about successful organizing? People have been using social media to drive change for years now. We wondered how many other 50+ people also wonder how they can best share their  knowledge and experience in the world around us.  We decided to invite a larger group to help us. It didn’t take us long to build the list!

A discussion on the way to the train station led us to choose “JUST ELDERS,” a name we have been trying on for size. We have begun to define ourselves.

We are sure of this: “We are seniors whose commitment to justice is rooted in our faith and values.” We hope many will come to join the conversation and help us sharpen our questions and our self definition.

We have no idea what will happen, but we know the conversation will be great.

Please join us.

Don Burton



Leave a Comment