We started Community Protectors Project because we were frustrated by the exclusionary and isolating practices of many in the Church. We saw how these behaviors were hurting God’s children and turning them—even some of us—away from Him. We wanted to make our Churches and communities more like the Kingdom in Heaven, where everyone shares in God’s love and riches, so we decided to launch this project. Our goal is to bring diverse Christians together to find our shared values, acknowledge our different experiences, and work together for our common goals. We’ve been amazed by the response so far.
We started out our project by hosting a community Bible study. We ran our community Bible study for four months, meeting every Tuesday night on Zoom to study scripture and discuss how it applied to our daily lives. We brought together over 150 community members, with an average weekly attendance of 75, many of whom would have otherwise not crossed paths. We discussed topics usually sidestepped in the Church, such as income inequality, racial prejudice, shame, and guilt.
Somewhere in between our prayer requests, breakout discussions, and group reflections, the transformation happened. We saw a mother get vulnerable about her teenage pregnancy and a community of Christians welcoming her with open arms. We saw someone reconsider her feelings about individuals experiencing homelessness. We saw how joining together with our neighbors across lines of difference helps us love each other better.
The community Bible study was just phase one of a three-part program meant to motivate those of us with Christian values to act together to better our home communities. Phase two included a community organizing course, in which we dug further into the issues and skills necessary to transform our towns and cities on a grassroots level.
For the last phase of our project, we handed the facilitation and organization over to our group members in the form of a community council. Through the community council, our group members have organized a number of local initiatives, including a coalition to address homelessness and a community health fair. Through all three phases of our project, our community has shown that we are so much stronger when we come together and act on our shared Christian values.
Rev. Dr. Tommie Watkins, Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Tommie Watkins, Jr. (he/him) serves as a Priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and as an Adjunct Professor in the UAB School of Social Work. Dr. Watkins’ work focuses on social justice, namely how equality and equity are essential for continued becoming the Beloved Community of Jesus Christ. During his time with CPP, Dr. Watkins has served as curriculum creator and facilitator for both our community Bible study and our community organizing class.
Based in Gadsden, Alabama, Sav Miles (they/them) is the grant coordinator for Community Protectors Project. Having focused their undergraduate studies at Harvard on the psychology of racial and class bias, Sav dreamed of CPP as a scientifically-grounded way to undo internalized prejudice in their hometown. Sav also organizes with local groups Race Against Injustice Now, the Gadsden Free Store, Etowah Freedom Fund, and the STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) Project.
I am 25 years old, I am a graduate student and a mother of a 2-year-old. My favorite hobbies are skateboarding, rollerskating, and podcasting. I grew up in the Lutheran church up until I was 19 years old. I have always felt a connection to Jesus and his teachings of unconditional love and inclusive ministry. I grew apart from organized religion, but working with CPP as their Social media manager has reminded me of everything I loved about communion and shared worship. I hope to empower others to return to communal worship and build a kingdom that values acceptance, love, and mutual respect.