Dear CCDA Family,
It is with deep gratitude and joy that I close my season as CCDA’s Advocacy & Strategic Engagement Director.
I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity to have served our association from inside the CCDA organization and deep joy that it was a season spent with countless practitioners like you dreaming, strategizing, working, praying and investing in a more just world.
CCDA has always been a community that has provided a space of belonging for me as I worked out my faith and love for my neighbors. My husband David and I have been aspiring to and living out the CCDA philosophy since the early 90’s. We first heard of CCDA the summer of 1995 while living in Denver. As we shared our hearts with those we met they would say: “You guys sound like you are with CCDA.”
That fall I was teaching in our local public school in Dallas, pregnant with our first child. I was saving my PTO so only David went to the conference. There he was challenged to think more holistically about the role of the church in poor communities. He brought home magazines, books and recordings. I drank up every single thing and knew I had found “my people.”
We never looked back. A few short months later while interviewing at Open Door Fellowship, a small church in Denver’s downtown, we asked how well they aligned with CCDA’s philosophy of ministry. Our hearts had been captured and challenged to walk out our expression of kingdom transformation alongside the poor.
Since then, many years have passed and I have asked deeper questions that challenge our philosophy of ministry, the communities in which we have lived it out and the church around which we center our community development efforts. I have found grief as well as deep rooted joy, not in who we are but who we can become.
“the public square is a place for practitioners”
Those early questions led me to pursue a deeper understanding of the systems that kept communities like ours in deep, embedded brokenness. We needed to look beyond individual restoration and build a more just and equitable society in which everyone has the ability to flourish.
Marches, protests, & rallies were a fine start but not enough. We needed to work within the system, bringing our voices to elected officials at every level of government. This work needed more CCDA practitioners at tables that were dictating how affordable housing was going to be protected, how accessible healthcare was going to be made, how incarcerated children would be tried, how immigrants would move forward outside of fear of a punitive system.
So, I learned how to get a seat at the table. I knew that if I could learn how to do this, others could too. I signed up to teach workshops at our conferences, sat on networking session panels and did whatever I could to bring two things forward: the public square is a place for CCDA practitioners and women are smart enough and bold enough to lead the way.
Being a part of CCDA’s Cohort 1 Leadership Program provided me the opportunity to meet amazing leaders across the country. It also rooted me as I sought out opportunities to help my community in the public square. I was not simply doing this as a community member but as a Christian. This full-circle reminder that ours is a Christian faith work was exactly what I needed to keep me living and focusing on a life rooted in biblical justice.
In addition to meeting some life-long friends, the cohort program introduced me to women I had seen from afar: Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Dr. Mary Nelson. I became better connected with other fierce advocacy voices in our association like Kit Danley, Craig Wong and Noel Castellanos. I was ready to move into deeper places of engaging systemic oppression and these mentors and friends invited me in. Leading the efforts to formally build CCDA’s advocacy platform was a natural next step.
“…we have built onramps for practitioners”
These past years have brought me much joy as together we have built onramps for practitioners to take next steps toward holistic biblical justice. We have trained and resourced ourselves to become better equipped not only to engage the public square and confront injustice but to bring our communities with us. We have collectively brought our voices from city council meetings to Congressional offices. We have marched, protested & been arrested, all while using art and media to tell our story.
As I look back on the work we have done, the ways we have grown and stretched ourselves, I am proud of our efforts, all the while sobered by the reality that our job is so very far from done.
Our communities remain oppressed by systems that need to be dismantled and that will not happen without serious commitment and uncompromising efforts. We need to be willing to continue uphill justice work until we have achieved what we long for – Kingdom transformation.
Partisan worries – and even funders – cannot keep us from this important work. The public square is to be a place BY the people and FOR the people. We cannot give up this space. Everyone should be able to walk through the doors, be heard and represented. The public sector governs our education, judicial, military and law enforcement systems. This is where all the laws, rules and oversight for how private business and nonprofits are regulated and made. This is a place for CCDA to stand strong.
“Civic engagement was not meant to be a sideline sport.”
Civic engagement was not meant to be a sideline sport. We must strive to do justice, to set a vision beyond this moment and boldly take the necessary steps to see it come to pass.
Friends, as I conclude my chapter, continue to build on what we formally started. Inspire each other with how you are walking into deeper waters. Train us with the skills you are learning along the way. Connect us to what can bring us life.
Over two decades have passed since I joined CCDA as a practitioner and I am so grateful for all I have learned. Thank you – hundreds of times over for your investment in me as a friend, fellow practitioner and sister in Christ. As I step down from my formal role at CCDA I return to being a practitioner in my community, seeking a just way forward, sowing alongside you into this Kingdom here on earth with hope that it will be like it is in heaven.
Grace & peace for the journey my friends.
Michelle Ferrigno Warren is a practitioner of CCDA. She earnestly longs to walk humbly with God so that her loving mercy and justice efforts reflect her King and His Kingdom. She does not settle for talking about justice but instead engages in how to live a just lifestyle. You can learn more about her journey in her book, The Power of Proximity, Moving Beyond Awareness to Action.