“Once upon a time, churches knew exactly how they were supposed to help the poor and feed the hungry, and relate to people in foreign lands. And there were plenty of willing hands and lots of money. And everyone lived happily ever after…”
Somehow it seems as if it’s getting harder and harder for churches to figure out their role in the larger world. Roles that once were almost exclusively carried out by churches are now filled by a multitude of government programs, hospitals, schools and even large hotel chains. There are thousands of non-profit agencies clamoring for money and volunteers to address just about every other conceivable social need.
No longer do people live in close-knit communities, where everyone who lives there works, plays and worships in the same church together. Now we drive from miles away to come to one of many competing churches, often drive even further to go to work, while our families and friends may be scattered even farther, and all of us feel pulled in a dozen different ways by our busy lives. Maybe the ways churches traditionally reached out to meet the needs of the world are no longer needed!?
And yet…and yet…somehow it still seems like it makes a difference when our caring arises out of prayer. That it matters enormously when we reach out in God’s name, seeking to serve God in all persons.
So we start over. Forgetting all our assumptions about what churches are “supposed” to do, and what we are “able” to do. Bringing as many people together as we possibly can, in large groups and small, to ask the awkward, disquieting (and, in the end, also loving and joy-filled) questions. To find out what it means, now, here, today, to be God’s hands in the world.
Scripture. Hear the voice of the prophets and the guidance given to the early church. How does God expect/invite his people to act in regard to the world around them? (Hospitality to strangers, care for the poor, etc.)
Faith. Does it make a difference whether these things are done by secular groups (government, non -profit agencies, service clubs, corporations, etc.) or by people of faith acting in community?
Vulnerable. Our baptismal vows call us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. But meeting Christ means being willing to be changed by Christ. What would it mean to approach ministry as an activity in which we are constantly open to being changed by the Christ in those we meet and serve?
Beloved. What is the difference between how we reach out to care for our own members, the community, region, nation, world? In today’s world, who is our neighbor?
Nurture. Just like Jesus sending out disciples to the world, much of our outreach is not carried on as a parish-wide activity, but rather by individual members in their daily lives. How do we prepare, send forth, support, and encourage these persons, and receive stories back from them?
Abundance. To our eyes, we appear to have very limited resources in terms of people, time and money. Yet we are to trust that God will provide abundantly. How do our actions show this trust to the world around us?
Listening. Are our meetings, above all, places in which to meet God and discern God’s will for us? To be present to God, and put God first, in all our discussions?
Discernment. What is God asking this specific community of faith, at this specific time, to do to be His hands in the world?
May the Grace of God be with all of us in our seeking!