Walking for Healthy and Connected Communities (M)


Beginning in February, 2006, one of the Peninsula’s three Regional Dialogues each year was replaced with an Area Dialogue in each of the four delineated geographic Areas of the Region.  It was through the process of Area Dialogues that the clergy and civic leaders in each of the four areas selected a focus topic.  At the Santa Clara County North Area Dialogues, the clergy and civic leaders selected the focus project – “Walking Together to Achieve Healthy and Connected Communities.”

The formation of the model for this project included interaction with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The following text is drawn from my statements in phone calls and correspondence with a Director at HHS in Washington D.C., and the resulting correspondence and meetings with the Director at that time of HHS Region IX, which includes California….


Since our conversation, I have been thinking about options for adapting the “Regional Clergy Engagement” (RCE) components and methodology in support of a national issue, like health.  I am particularity interested in how this innovative infrastructure would translate a national focus at the local level.  I realized that the direct access to local clergy is the key value of “Regional Clergy Engagement.”  This enables the clergy to engage in an issue they themselves value, but lack the capacity to support in a way that is significant and measurable in the lives of their congregants and collectively in the broader community.  In a USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture study of clergy
, made possible by the existence of the Regional Clergy Database of San Mateo County, the majority of clergy expressed a deep desire for a role in “civic engagement.”

This capacity for clergy engagement is exactly what the Disaster Preparedness, Response, Recovery (DPRR) project has modeled, based on the post-Katrina effort on behalf of personal preparedness in the first three days after an incident. Based on designed congregation coordination as part of the County OES structure, this model supports preparedness in the community and provides organized individual response at the street level from the moment of the incident.

I want to respond to your mention of the denomination based support through your relationships with national denominational representatives.  It is a long path from denominational representatives at the national level, through denominational organization, into the regions and to clergy in the neighborhoods.  In addition, this is only an option for those with significant denominational structures. 

“Regional Clergy Engagement” was envisioned and designed on the premise that a county or regional based infrastructure of clergy would provide direct impact in the communities, as is the case with systems of schools, government and social services. In the DPRR project, as well as the Census 2010 project, the established components and methodology of “Regional Clergy Engagement” provided the local Emergency Management Agencies and the US Census Bureau with direct clergy engagement, combined with the “pre-existing” partnerships with local community leaders, which the “Regional Clergy Engagement” infrastructure and staff initiated and maintains.

Proposed Model Project
HHS National Walking Initiative and “Regional Clergy Engagement”

I have included a draft for a project specific “Congregational Certificate” directed toward the HHS national initiative to promote walking with the goal of general health and the reduction of obesity:

  1. 2010 Michelle Obama, Let’s Move
  2. 2016 The Surgeon General, Step It Up! – This plan includes utilizing the tracking process with a pilot of four groups of 4 partner congregations.

The enclosed draft for the “Congregational Certificate – Walking” would be finalized in line with national goals and the HHS strategies, in conjunction with a “Regional Clergy Engagement” staff coordinated initiative.  This initiative would include an “Agency Representative Team” (ART)  composed of HHS Western region staff, local health professionals, county department staff and human services agency staff, in partnership with a “Congregation Representative Team” (CRT) to maximize community engagement. The goal would be to align personal habits, congregation practices and cultural norms.  The initiative would also enlist and support congregations utilizing the capacity to establish a Regional Clergy Database and congregation “Tracking System.”

An essential benefit of the proposal is the inclusion of Trainings in Multi-Faith Awareness and the Religions Sector Glossary for the staff of all institutions engaging in this project and the full HHS staff, to ensure core understanding of the religion beliefs and practices of the diversity of (a) faith institutions to recruit initiative partners, and, (b) all individuals to maximize engagement in HHS initiatives.

This draft “Congregation Certificate – Walking”  includes these seven certificate items:
(1) Designation of a congregational representative and selection of a congregational team.
(2) A “food covenant” for congregational events, such as “No Soda Summers,” low impact food stations, no high impact food stations, etc.
(3) Partner congregations meeting in a centrally located park for “walking together for connected and healthier communities” – 8 weeks of weekly walks with individual pledges to participate 4, 5, or 6 of the 8 weeks and bonus for 7 and 8 weeks.
(4) Clergy committing to a community list of “clergy standing up for healthy lives and communities through reducing obesity.”
(5) Collective participation in a geographic area with neighborhood outreach in line with local and national goals.
(6) [To be selected by each group of four partner congregations.]
(7) [To be selected by the individual congregation, from denominational goals as available.]

Utilizing these RCE components and methodologies, HHS is positioned to engage the broadest base of clergy at the local level.

The DPRR project pilot provides for the re-emergence of the congregational instinct to reach out within their local neighborhoods.  This is the case when they collectively, as multi-faith congregations, engage the multi-faith (and non-faith) residents in the neighborhoods.  In this case, the clergy worked collaboratively, providing a neighborhood base for local fire and police, OES and Red Cross.  What emerged in the project revealed the role of a congregation in re-energizing and reinforcing a fabric of connection among neighbors.  Furthermore, because of the wide geographical spread of today’s congregants, the geographic scope of influence of a congregation is very broad, when you are able to accomplish systemic congregation coordination and galvanize the influence of all congregations in a region.

The Big Picture
“Regional Clergy Engagement” and Clergy Capacity for Civic Engagement
Your question about congregation “membership approval” prompted me to think through how that occurs.  Technically “Regional Clergy Engagement” frames a constitute affiliation of clergy, defined by their professional status.  It should be noted that RCE has determined the mode of engagement for those denominations that do not have the title clergy or a professional leadership.

The RCE structure respects the different levels of clergy investment in a core community issue.  It does impact that level of engagement by providing an increased level of knowledge on an issue.  This is the case in the example of mental health issues.  The topic came up in several clergy area Dialogues in February of 2010.   It was selected as the topic for the clergy Regional Dialogue in May. The topic was advanced to a greater level of clergy and community at the clergy/civic leader Regional Dialogue in December.  The critical factor is the awareness of the scope and initiative of this concern for clergy, whose time constraints or other core congregation focus issues would have prevented them from gaining basic awareness and some level of engagement, for themselves and the congregation they serve.

Numerous topics for Dialogue have been selected based on clergy conversations (Beyond the Town Square – How City Design Impacts Personal and Community Relationships) and events such as Katrina (Faith/Community Response in a Time of Crisis).  These Dialogues often provide the framework for local and regional projects to support the further involvement of clergy who become engaged with an issue in groups and/or with local officials. 

There is an ongoing awareness of the need to safeguard the appropriate alignment of the institutions of religion and state. Often strategies are designated as “A list” and “B list.”  A list items are those which can be implemented without any concern with infringing, in perception or reality, on distinctive roles of religion and state.  B list items are those which require the framing of clear policy to ensure that involvement by clergy and/or congregations and by civic sectors institutions would be appropriate.  When policy can be established and options are considered to be in alignment items are moved to the A list.

I am pleased to share with you the innovations which have emerged for congregational engagement related to the mission of HHS specifically, and as a case study on the potential for RCE to build capacity among congregations for partnership with a wide spectrum of issues in all federal departments.  This includes extending the outcomes of partnership between these departments and the White House Center on Faith Based and Neighborhood Organizations.

The “experiment” which began eight years ago, has now fully structured “Regional Clergy Engagement” and established the framework for links between the clergy and congregation as the core base of the Religion Sector and the other community sectors: government, education, human services and business.

The capacity of what can be accomplished based on these innovations, on a regional basis throughout the nation, has been confirmed through the initial projects and consultations on both coasts, with the Mayor’s Office in Riverside, CA and the Department of Senior Services of Westchester County, NY.  Furthermore, the components and methodology have application by HHS and any other civic sectors’ entities in areas where “Regional Clergy Engagement” has not been implemented. We know the mode for engaging 400 organized clergy colleagues and we, the clergy and civic leaders, have seen what can be accomplished.


Selected from a legislator briefing…

In my conversations with a Director at HHS, I was asked to provide a model “Congregational Certificate” as it would relate to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move.”  I was asked to follow up with the HHS Region IX Director at that time.  In subsequent meetings, I provided a design of a plan which would utilize the “Regional Clergy Engagement” components and methodology including the “Certificate” and “Tracking System” to establish a Peninsula based pilot as the centerpiece for an HHS state-wide congregation based initiative.

We are confident of the impact that would result from the combined engagement of a regional cadre of congregations and the prestige of HHS.  The value of this “Certificate” process would be advanced through personal endorsement of the clergy of every faith with their denominational colleagues at the state and national level, proud of the role of their congregations in initiating this landmark accomplishment.

I recently heard Michelle Obama in a TV interview express her commitment to “Let’s Move” initiatives which will have a concrete impact.  I can only imagine the impact of a letter from Michelle Obama, personally addressed to Peninsula clergy, and her signature on each Certificate earned by a congregation.  This capacity to achieve neighborhood by neighborhood engagement on her part would engage their partnership, directly mobilizing individuals in congregations and those they impact throughout the community.  The result – a concrete initiative in which clergy and congregations model for their denominational counterparts a county by county impact statewide.


This HHS statement, issued in conjunction with a proposal for CPPW projects (Communities Putting Prevention to Work), clearly reflects an awareness of the need for an innovative capacity for personal constituent engagement.  The references in this statement is actually epitomized by the status of these clergy and congregation in the neighborhoods of every local community across the county.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
CPPW Fact Sheet

Many national organizations serve as trusted community sources – where families go to participate in programs and come together to talk about important issues and build partnerships for action.  While other pieces of the CPPW target funding go to local and state governments, HHS recognizes a national prevention movement will require additional leaders.  This new opportunity creates a model public-private partnership to make and sustain important changes in communities.


Rabbi Jay Miller   RELIGION SECTOR 3.0
1.0  On the Town Square         2.0  Walls of Separation
3.0  Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society

jaymiller@blueconnect.org      650.740.4411