Friday, November 19, 2004

Community outreach II

Well, my adventure in living out the faith is on course. After discussing my plan with a trusted friend, I decided that my desire for a "Cabinet-level position" on this front might be a tad overly ambitious and premature. :) So, I settled for a heart-to-heart talk with one of the pastors, who thought that the church should indeed be more aggressive and/or deliberate in its outreach programming. We'll start with the program this weekend to walk the neighborhoods (along with folks from other area churches), meeting neighbors, listening to their concerns, and hopefully gaining some trust. That should (God willing) lead us to start to develop an agenda, the neighbors' agenda. And we'll go from there.

The next step might be forming a small group within the church to start the community outreach. Or, that group might decide pretty early on that part of our work necessarily involves actively lobbying within the church to get others involved. Either way, the Spirit is mightily at work in my life, and that is a very, very good thing. It feels awesome to know that in some very small way I'm becoming more of an instrument for God.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Community outreach

Do most churches have a director or minister of community outreach? I'm not sure what the position is even called in most places, if it exists... I mean someone who guides and/or organizes the church's efforts to reach out to care for others in the community. We have an evangelization ministry, but they are about needs of the spirit. We also have a missions committee, but they basically support established ministry efforts (in contrast to mobilizing the congregation to get involved locally).

I'm still having my internal conversation about "what would Wesley do?" (see my earlier post) It strikes me that outreach is not a major facet of our congregation... looking at our website, I don't see any references to it at all! Odd for a church that is located in an impoverished inner-city neighborhood.

I've had several lunch conversations about my social concerns over the last year so with a member of our church's staff (youth minister). He has asked me several times "Where is the Spirit leading you?" I think this is the answer. I don't think the existing staff have the time to move this issue forward, and frankly I'd do it for free. We have a church council meeting tonight, and I just might suggest that. Don't know whether I have the guts to do it though. I'm already incredibly busy at home and at work... but this is something I feel so strongly about that I think it would be FUN to do. I really believe in it. I don't know what objection could be raised, but I'm sure I'm missing something.

I could use a few prayers about this one.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Repeating myself. Repeating myself.

This [the stuff I've posted about in my last two posts] is silly. I have to stop stewing about it and posting about it endlessly. I just get depressed when I think about it. I suppose it does help to vent though. Here's my latest take:
  1. There is a pretty large contingent of Christians that knows that they should be about the business of loving others.
  2. Unfortunately, this group also consists largely of people who know that humility is a virtue; they keep a pretty low profile.
  3. There is another pretty large contingent for whom Christianity is a cultural norm, a family tradition, a comfortable set of words and practices. They strongly believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, but are a bit less enthusiastic about his mission while on Earth. They are probably less than comfortable with that "Camel through the eye of a needle" thing, the whole Good Samaritan parable, the admonition to "take care of my flock," that sort of thing. Might be o.k. in theory, but let's not go overboard with it. John 3:16 sums up everything you need to know about Jesus and Christianity. Yeah yeah, He talked a lot about loving people-- neighbors, enemies, etc.-- but all I have to do is confess Him as my Lord and Savior, everything else is taken care of. [And apparently the louder I confess it, the better.]
  4. And here's the rub: the first group is aware of the second, but tends to avoid confrontation with them like the plague. In some cases they just get worn down. In other cases, they simply realize that life is short and there is work to be done-- and that convincing the latter group that they should be about loving others isn't nearly as fruitful an endeavor as, say, feeding the poor or befriending the lonely.
  5. I hate to add this one, but the 2nd group also has the money. What would happen if you hammered a congregation endlessly about the evils of greed, the Gospel of Matthew (money rusting and all of that), the need to give freely to those in need... ? I suspect that some pastors are afraid to do that, because either attendance or donations would go down. Probably both. So be it.
  6. Here's hoping we can get the "loving/inclusive" group out of the trenches. We all need for that to happen... not to prove a point, but because together the Christian community could do so much good in the world. :)

I dunno, I just get so depressed about the whole state of affairs. I was thinking today, during services "We have a music ministry, a children's ministry... why don't we have a minister in charge of outreach to the community? Why don't we have someone who spearheads this type of commitment to others in the congregation? Someone who keeps this front and center for us?"

I liked the "What would Jesus do?" movement. As I sat in my United Methodist church service, I thought about that. I also thought "What would Wesley do?" He lived his life for connecting with others, not just his friends, family, church members. He tried to connect with sinners. He tried to connect with the poor, with the underpaid. He demonstrated through his actions that he cared about the lives of others.

Glass half full?

I read yet another editorial in this morning's paper asking why conservative Christians have been allowed to define which issues dominate the "morality" agenda. The editorial writer asked "where are the liberal Christians?" Excellent question. He goes on to point out that Jimmy Carter is a good example of a Christian working to care for neighbors as a central element of his faith. Given the name of this blog, I obviously couldn't agree more.

One redeeming thing about the election is that people are apparently calling on their faith as a source of inspiration when casting a vote. I think that is awesome. Religion is alive and well in this country, and many people are looking to their religion as a way of addressing the issues they confront. This is more than a glass half full... that is truly a great thing.

My hope is that we can work to broaden the notion of what it means to be religious, even what it means to be Christian. As I've said before, abortion is a HUGE issue in this country, and it deserves to be. I'm completely confused by this issue, but I've been listening hard to what Christians are saying about it... and to be honest, I'm now finding myself leaning toward those who view abortion as morally wrong and to be avoided at all costs. This religious liberal is NOT towing the party line, but rather trying to live out his faith, wherever that might lead.

But the abortion issue aside, what issues deserve our attention as Christians? How should our faith inform our politics? Jesus Christ didn't spend any time talking issues of sexuality, to the best of my knowledge. Maybe he was prone to oversight? I don't think so. His ministry dealt a LOT with issues of poverty and social justice, lifting up the poor and downtrodden. I've already said that I am listening hard to what others are saying... here's hoping that conservative Christians hear this message as well:

Some people are social liberals not in SPITE of their Christianity, but BECAUSE OF THEIR CHRISTIANITY.

Christ calls me, in dozens of places in the New Testament, to care for others, to clothe and feed the poor, to embrace those who are not in my social circle. Nothing could be more clear to me. There is not one ounce of doubt in my mind. Does that necessarily mean we vote one way or another on social security (or any other particular bill or issue)? No, obviously not. But it should determine what issues I push hardest on, what issues I declare to be closest to my heart as a Christian. How we address poverty is open to some debate; that we declare as Christians that poverty is OUR problem is not. The same goes with conflict, war, loving our enemies. My interests should not focus only on my need to express my faith in school prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance. I can (and should) be praying in many, many other times and places. But the poor and powerless of our society need our help, and Christ is calling us to do that.

I attend an urban church. We are embarking on an endeavor to meet those who live in the poor neighborhood surrounding the church, to let them know that the church cares about them and stands ready to help them address important issues in their lives (crime, poverty, childcare, etc.). This is part of a larger movement, I believe it is called "On sacred ground." I'd guess that 97% of the congregation doesn't know the effort is underway. Many, to be honest, would give almost anything to have the whole church-- a beautiful, restored historic church-- simply transplanted to suburbia, so they wouldn't have to lock their doors and roll up their windows as they drive through the impoverished neighborhoods to get to the church. Nothing saddens me more. Reaching out to the poor and suffering in our midst should be Agenda Item Number 1, for all of us. Ironically, I see my church's location as a tremendous opportunity. Think of the good we can do. Some would have to travel quite a distance to get that kind of oppornity to have immediate and dramatic impact on the lives of others, the kind of impact that we should yearn for. We [the members of my church] need only open our eyes as we go to and from services.