Through the last several posts, I have been sharing insights from “Friendship at the Margins” by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl. One distinction made in the book that I found helpful was that of cause verses community. Most efforts to address the needs of those trapped in poverty are cause focused; hunger, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, etc. However friendship based ministry requires a community focus and the realization that in an impoverished community you are likely to address all of the issues or causes named above. Community focused ministries by their very nature are generalized around the many needs of a specific group of people verses specializing in one specific cause. In a world of specializations it is often difficult to be a generalist. The key to being a good community focused ministry is learning to connect to the specialist. The best connections are made in the context of friendships. This week several new friendships began.
For several years, I have been searching for other community focused organizations with which to learn from and finally found what I was looking for. I spent a day this week with Jim Moynihan, the founder of One Church, a community based ministry in Yorktown,Virginia. Jim came to Richmond as a representative of Communities First. Communities First is an association of Christian community development organizations who utilize Asset Based Community Development principals to strengthen under-resourced communities across the country. They are a national program that exists to help people like me do what we are trying to do better.
In just one short day, Jim gave me many insights into some of the ways we might build stronger friendships both in our communities and with our partnering congregations. More importantly, Jim helped me realize that Embrace is a part of a bigger movement of God. He invited us into community with others who are doing the same kind of work. This was very exciting for me. I have felt like an odd bird for a long time but I think I finally found a flock to fly along side.
The unique element of Communities First is that they seek to mobilize church groups in their community development work. It is the building of friendships between the churches and Embrace and ultimately the church and the community that is often the most difficult task in the work we do. Through the past few posts, we have examined all the reasons people of faith stay disconnected from the needs of those in the margins (Why don’t more Christians respond to the needs of those on the margins?,Are You A Contemplative Activist?,Contemplating the Contemplative Path: Learning to Clap in Amazement ).
However, this week I experienced a breakthrough. For almost a year we have had a volunteer, named Don, coming from a suburban church. He came first to “help” and has become a true “friend” to many in our community. His church has helped us at holidays and offered financial support but has not moved from “supporter” to friend. On Thursday, Don shared his desire to help lead his congregation into relationship with the community. Because Don has himself experienced friendships at the margins, I know that he will be able to communicate this approach to his congregation and we are excited to see how God uses Don in this role.
We are also seeing the maturing of a friendship with our friends from Salisbury Presbyterian Church. As I shared in my post “Jesus brought Sweet Potatoes”, Salisbury felt strongly that they were called to help us address the need for food in our Hillside Court community. Yesterday, two volunteers (Kappie and Rob) brought their church van into the city, a 30 minute commute, in order to take my friends from Hillside to the nearest food pantry which is more than five miles away. We had twenty seven people show up to go to the food pantry. Without their 15 passenger van, we would have been in big trouble!
While the need for food is great, the greater need is for relationships. My hope is that through this charitable act, my new friends Rob and Kappie from Salisbury will make some new friends in Hillside. My prayer is that they will remember Al, Antionette, Mrs. Murphy, Louis, Tammy, Mildred, and the rest of their passengers in their prayers in the coming weeks. I pray they will learn their stories and feel called into the story God is unfolding as we walk together over the coming months and years.
The last new friendship that started this week that I would like to share is with Karen from Christ Church. Karen read my book, heard Charles speak at her church and happens to live next door to one of our key volunteers. Karen contacted me because she identified with my journey. She recognized that many Christians want to move beyond the pews but believes that they are not making that journey because they simply do not know where to start. Karen has offered to help us create better ways of connecting with those who do want to build friendships in the margins.
Jim, Don, Kappie, Rob and Karen restored my faith in people of faith and the willingness of some to invest in the lives of those in under resourced communities. I can’t wait to see where God takes us from here. As more people join the conversation, the possibilities of seeing real change multiplies and the excitement is contagious. It is not a movement yet, but it is the beginning of some beautiful new friendships.
Thanks for helping me delve a bit deeper into the question, “Why don’t more Christians respond to the needs of those on the margins?” As we have explored this question over the past few weeks, I have not only learned the many barriers that exist in building these kinds of friendships but have also learned to appreciate and celebrate those relationships that are forming.