I’m back in the office today at Cole Harbour Woodside United Church (CHWUC) after a beautiful, challenging, and Spirit-filled week at Regional Meetings in Sackville, NB. As we continue to work our way through 50 ways to connect our church with the wider community, we turn to thinking about what it means to “Build Authentic Relationships”. 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.
This section of considerations builds on the previous 18 ideas, but here we begin to dig a little deeper and talk about more than just “us” as a congregation and “them” as the community beyond our walls. We begin to seriously consider what it means to think about an “us” as both these entities truly coming together. That’s the word “relationship” by definition – two or more things connecting, coming together in some way. So, let’s think about how we can build those connections in ways that are genuine and true. (The thought from the original article appears in blue, with my commentary underneath as it applies to us in our context at CHWUC).
Step 19. Strive for meaningful engagement with others, not superficial gestures.
If we truly seek to be in relationship with the community outside the walls of our physical structure it requires more of us than being simply familiar with one another. The difference is between being a friend and being an acquaintance. An acquaintance is someone who you recognize and might say “hello” to in the grocery store, for example, but a friend is someone who you would stop and engage in conversation! And why would we engage in conversation with a friend? Because we really care about them beyond the level of basic human respect – we deeply care for their well-being and they care for ours. We are interested in each other’s joys and sorrows and we connect at the level that allows us to be truly empathetic to each other’s needs.
Step 20. Make sure you are reaching out to people for the right reasons. If your motive is simply to get them to come to church, people will see right through to it.
I think this point speaks for itself, but let me reiterate what I stated in another post on this topic: “While new membership may be a wonderful side effect of being good disciples by loving God and loving our neighbour, our only goal ought to be to love unconditionally. Ask yourselves, “If we serve in our community and nobody new comes to church, would we feel we wasted our time?” If so, don’t bother. Return to the drawing board. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200! God doesn’t call you to fill the church pews. God calls you to love and serve others. Period.” I hold firm to this assertion. It is disingenuous to enter into a relationship with our neighbours if our goal is for them to join “us” as opposed to our goal being to simply be in a mutual relationship.
Step 21. Maintain appropriate boundaries, and respect all with whom you engage.
Ah, boundaries! The first thing that we must understand about boundaries are that they are not walls. Boundaries are not there to keep other people out or ourselves in but serve, in this case, to provide and protect our understanding and respect in relationship with one another. If we do not learn each other’s limits we only find out what they are when we trespass against them. Ideally, in healthy community relationships we do the work of learning what is acceptable behavior around communication, connection, space, marketing, professionalism, interpersonal dynamics and more. This takes patience, compromise, and time, but with dedication and respect for one another that transcends the need to be right, healthy boundaries will be established that help all of us navigate the challenging journey of relationships. Healthy boundaries = healthy relationships.
Step 22. Collaborate with others who are also passionate about the community. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you can partner with someone else serving the community.
This stems back to getting to know your community that we discussed a couple of weeks ago. We’ve just discussed that authentic relationships require a lot of work and time – all worth it, but still require a lot of energy, so the best use of our time and energy is to connect to those that we identify as having similar passions and goals in the community that we go. Who else is out there doing the work that we are passionate about too? How can we help them? Do they want our help? Social media is a great place to start asking these questions and see who is out there! Be brave, ask if you can get together and work together. They may not want our help or input, but we will never know until we ask. We might be surprised at the beautiful, unexpected relationships that develop when we take a chance and work with another group!
Stay tuned for next week when we discuss “turning our existing ministries outward”. Until then, get talking to each other about this stuff. If you’ve read this, share it with someone at church and get a conversation going.
Offered in the Peace of Christ,
Rev. Kim Curlett
Minister of Spiritual Care