I write to you today from the inaugural meeting of Regional Council 15 (Nova Scotia and Bermuda) of the United Church. We are meeting in Sackville, NB with our friends in the Region that includes New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (who have a much longer regional name that I can’t currently remember and at the time of this writing I am not online). It’s an exciting time in the church and I am grateful to be here doing the work of the wider church and getting ready to be ordained here on Sunday.
So, now to the matter at hand. We are working our way through 50 ways to connect our church with community. These posts are inspired by the work of Robert Crossman, Ann A. Michel, Kim Mitchel, and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., as found in the article https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-take-church-to-the-community/from the Lewis Centre for Christian Leadership. For more information on what we have been discussing please refer to my previous posts.
Today, we will expand on the first 13 ways that included ideas about embracing an expansive concept of community, how we ought to prepare ourselves spiritually before engaging in the work of connecting church and community, and getting to know the actual community surrounding our church. In the article where these FIVE ideas comes from this section was titled “Listen and Learn”. As has been our practice. The original article’s point are in blue and it is the words of my reflection on those points that follow.
Step 14. Know that ministries that truly bless a community often arise out of conversations where you listen for the hopes and dreams of people in your community.
That means that we must know the people and be in relationshipwith themnot simply have knowledge that they exist. If we want folks to trust us enough to share those hopes and dreams we must allow ourselves to become a good neighbour and a friend. Currently, many of our congregations are living out the theory that “good fences make good neighbours” without recalling that it is not easy to love our neighbour, as we are commanded to do, through a fence or a wall. I would suggest that it is time to install a swinging door that allows us to go back and forth between each other as we build and nurture new relationships with those groups and individuals in our community.
Step 15. Interview residents of the community. Sit in a park, diner, or coffee house. Ask simply, “What are your challenges, hopes, longings and dreams?”
Also, on Facebook or other social media, but actually ask to talk to real live people. Group surveys are often only filled out by those who are already interested. Surveys are easier because then we don’t actually have to be bold and have conversations with folks that may not be completely interested in talking to us right away. This is NOT something that regularly happens, but it should. I wonder if you can imagine trying this? I challenge you to start this with your friends, family, and neighbours. Asking the question above is an invitation to conversation, and a conversation is an invitation into relationship. Shall we try it and see where it goes.
Step 16. Get to know the major public officials. They are people with tremendous influence. They need to know of your church’s commitment to the community.
This one is big because these are the folks with so much of the decision-making power in your area. Getting to know them might include inviting them to speak to you as the minister, or chair of a committee. Together you might find a way to help the community together. Having a good relationship between public officials and church will help both of you to meet these needs.
Step 17. Involve many people from your church in this work. Hold one another accountable to the tasks of engaging and learning from others.
Yes, yes, and yes! This is not just the work of a small task group. This is not just the work of the minister. This is not just the work of the outreach committee. This is not JUST the work of any of these group and individuals. This is the work of the WHOLE congregation. Each of the groups can help everyone do this work by doing some of the initial research so that they can educate others with both their knowledge and their experience. This work CANNOT be the work of one person and actually be effective.
Step 18. Discern clusters of issues and concerns that arise from these conversations. Ask what issues, suffering, injustices, or brokenness might you address.
Discern, disseminate, interpret, and all of the above is completely necessary to this work. The temptation will be to be reactive when we hear these stories, but we must commit to take the time to pray over the answers we receive to our question of, “What are your challenges, hopes, longings and dreams?” and let the Spirit guide us through a process of discerning where we are called next. In the medical field, we would call this triaging. Instead of sticking a bandage on every sore we see, we are called to take the time to have a conversation with those we seek to help. Like a triage nurse who takes the initial information to help the emergency room address those with the greatest needs first; the health care team that comes to ask those questions again; and those who go and walk to colleagues and then return to the patient about their treatment options – our work ought to be just as collaborative.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we will discuss what it means to “Building Authentic Relationship”…
Offered in the Peace and Love of Christ,
Kim Curlett (Next week I’ll be adding Rev. to that signature – God willing! Please keep me in your prayers on May 26, 2019 at 10 am)
Minister of Spiritual Care