Monthly Archives: February 2011

Is it Safe?

Lion of the Dublin zoophoto © 2004 Tambako The Jaguar | more info (via: Wylio)


Do you remember this scene from the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?”

“Is he a man?”, asked Lucy.

“Aslan, a man?”, said Mr.Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you, He is the King of the wood and the son of the Great Emperor Beyond the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – The lion. The Great Lion.”

“Ooh”, said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he…quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion!”

“That you will deary and no mistake”, said Mrs.Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?”, said Lucy.

“Safe?”, said Mr.Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe…..but he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.” – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

I did not get the profound significance of this statement until the second or third time I watched The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  I meet many Lucy’s in the work that I do.  When I go out to Churches and invite Christians to venture into the inner city to spend time with Christ among the homeless population, the first question is always, “Is it safe?”  I never know how to answer this question because following Christ is always a dangerous proposition.

You do not have to spend much time in the Apostle Paul’s letters to realize just how dangerous being a Christ follower is. One of the best examples is 2 Corinthians 11:24-26 where the Apostle Paul writes

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”

I love this passage because no matter how bad things get for me; I have it good compared to Paul!  So why is it that we as Christians today think that we can follow Christ and still play it safe at the same time? There is certainly much biblical evidence to the contrary.

However, I cannot judge the Lucy’s of the world.  “Is it safe?” was my first question when I heard God calling me into the city to spend time with a young homeless mother named Stephanie who had just exited the local shelter.  I knew in my first encounter with this woman in the safe comfortable confines of my local church that Christ was present as she and I shared our stories.  I knew that the call to visit her at her home was of God and yet I almost allowed fear to keep me from choosing the good over the safe.  I almost allowed the enemy to steal the tremendous blessings that grew out of that first act of faithfulness by convincing me that my safety was more important than my obedience.

I will never forget my heart pounding as I drove into the city and the ominous words of my husband who urged me not to go because “this city is a dangerous place”.  I had him on the cell phone the entire time I was searching for Stephanies’s apartment.  Like Mrs. Beaver pointed out, there are few who can go before the King without their knees knocking.  But the minute Stephanie opened that apartment door and embraced me as her sister in Christ, all my fear vanished.  God does not remove our fear, but if we are faithful to persevere in spite of the fear, God will reward our faithfulness.

I think the larger question is “Is it safe to ignore the call of God?”  I am not big into the use of “fear of God” as a reason for people getting involved.  Instead, I see the real risk not in God zapping us for being disobedient but the greater risk is in us missing out on the blessings that God has in store for us.

Do you remember the scene in Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian where Lucy after looking for Aslan throughout the movie, goes alone into the forest and finally finds him.  She throws herself, arms stretched wide around his enormous neck, and embraces him with such love and devotion.  Can you imagine all the blessings Lucy would have missed out on had she been too scared to approach Aslan?

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

When we choose to seek Christ among the least, we are assured to find him there and while he is not safe, he is always good.

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Filed under Leadership, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Fiscal Integrity or Hypocrisy?

Money!photo © 2005 Tracy O | more info (via: Wylio)
I know there are individuals who easily dismissed my rant about the proposed budget cuts simply because they think that I will somehow personally benefit if AmeriCorps funding stays intact.  I doubt they will believe me when I share that administering the grant actually cost more than the value of the benefits gained by Embrace.  The sole reason Embrace choose to run an AmeriCorps program is because it creates economic opportunities for individuals who would otherwise not have these opportunities.  To be honest there are days, like yesterday, when I think receiving federal funds is not worth the pain.  However, to give up on AmeriCorps would be to give up on my friends in Hillside Court and to give up on my friends would be to give up on economically challenged communities.  I am not willing to do that, no matter what the cost.

In Jim Wallis’s post yesterday titled, “This is Not Fiscal Conservatism. It’s Just Politics”, Wallis appeals to his readers to look at the proposed budget cuts as Christians.  He challenges Christians to put partisan alliances aside and come at this issue from our shared religious tradition and ask the question, “What Would Jesus Cut?”  If faced with the choice between tax cuts for the wealthy, military spending or services for the poor, which would Christ choose to invest in?

I encourage you to read the full article here. No one is arguing with the fact we have to address the issue of the deficit. The real question is who should pay.  Below is Wallis’s closing comment from this post,

“When politicians attack the poor, it is not partisan to challenge them; it is a Christian responsibility.   This is wrong, this is unjust, this is vile, and this must not stand. These proposed budget cuts are backwards, and I don’t see how people of faith can accept them. And we won’t.”

So, will Christians accept this?  Or, will we choose to be Christians first and Republican or Democrat second?

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Filed under Community Development

A Rant to Whomever will Listen

Capitol Hill - Washington, DCphoto © 2010 Vinoth Chandar | more info (via: Wylio)
I have never really paid much attention to what goes on in Washington DC.  But if you have been following my blog or Facebook page, you know that the House of Representatives passed a budget this past Saturday requiring the elimination of the Corporation of National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps.

What you may not know is that the money Embrace Richmond gets from AmeriCorps goes to my AmeriCorps members in the form of living allowances and does not even come close to covering the cost of administering the grant.  So basically every dollar that gets taken from AmeriCorps is taken out of the hands of AmeriCorps members across this country who are living off these meager stipends.  So in other words, when Washington cuts AmeriCorps, they are moving people out of roles where they are “earning” a living by serving their neighbors and putting them into the welfare lines and unemployment lines.  This makes no sense at all!

This is all just a political game that will have absolutely no positive bottom-line impact on the federal deficit.  They are basically just moving expenses from one category to another in an attempt to win political points.  It is absolutely insane.  In an economy where there are not enough jobs, they will be eliminating jobs for the people who have the hardest time securing employment – the young and the poor.

Not only will this elimination result in significant numbers of people being without income, it will also hurt the hundreds of thousands of impoverished children and families who depend on the services provided by AmeriCorps members.  For example, last year alone Embrace Richmond AmeriCorps members distributed more than $345,000 in goods to over 1000 individuals and we are just one of over 3,000 non-profits who participate in national service programs.

What I also don’t think people realize is that when AmeriCorps goes, a number of non-profits such as Embrace who depend on the AmeriCorps members are going to be severely impacted and some will likely have to close their doors, thus further eliminating jobs and services to the most vulnerable in our country.  The ripple effect of this budget proposal is not even being considered.

In addition to eliminating AmeriCorps member jobs, hurting non-profits and the poorest of the poor who receive services, educational institutions will also be negatively impacted.  A significant portion of the AmeriCorps compensation package comes in the form of educational grants.  It is these educational awards that help people get a college education.  Without these awards, many will be unable to continue to pursue higher education.

What Washington is not considering is the value of the more than 5 million volunteers who are mobilized every year and the significant private dollars being leveraged by AmeriCorps programs.  Last year the programs supported by the Embrace AmeriCorps members matched 3 to 1 the dollars expended by the federal government and we mobilized 1,900 volunteers who served 12,600 hours.  The dollar value of these volunteer hours and private dollars being invested  demonstrates that AmeriCorps is one of the best investments America could make in fighting poverty, improving education and strengthening our country.

My AmeriCorps members make $6,500 per year and they are willing to work for that amount because they believe in this country and want to make it a better place.  This bill is telling them that Washington does not think they are worth $6,500 and would rather have them begging and asking for handouts in the welfare or unemployment line.  We are telling the millions of volunteers who support AmeriCorps programs that they are of no value and that the services they provide are unimportant.

I know this post is raw with emotion and probably not the wisest thing I have written.  But I have signed every online petition, called my congressman, and I just don’t feel like anyone is listening.  I know out there somewhere is someone who cares and I pray someone who has the power to stop this madness.  So I will conclude this rant asking you not to sign another petition but instead to put this petition before God seeking provision for all those whose lives are dependent on the decisions being made by our elected officials.


Filed under Community Development, Personal Reflection

Learning to be Christian from the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lamaphoto © 2009 abhikrama | more info (via: Wylio)
I got a really interesting email from a friend this week who has been wrestling with his Christian faith over the past year.  He was recently diagnosed with cancer.  He wrote the following:

“My sense of Christian Identity was pretty concrete when my health issues came to light and looking back, God’s timing was so impeccable, any whisps of doubt are now erased. I think that I would have driven myself insane had I not had faith.

Coming full circle… One of the biggest reasons my faith and mindset remained so refreshed and unwavering can be credited to the Dalai Lama. That man articulates what I consider the fundamentals of Earthly Christianity unlike any other – acts of compassion and brotherly love. Sure, he doesn’t believe in Jesus, but he has made me a better Christian.

I’m sure the vast majority of Christians would balk at, and some would DESPISE the idea of a Buddhist having any influence over their spirituality. I don’t know why he strikes such a chord with me but I DO know most modern day Christian leaders don’t impact me the same way.”

My friend sent me the link to the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page and I spent a little time reading the status updates.   This one was one of the most recent:

“Feelings of anger and hatred arise from a mind that is troubled by dissatisfaction and discontent. So you can prepare to deal with such occasions by constantly working to build inner contentment and by cultivating kindness and compassion. This brings about a certain calmness of mind that can help prevent anger from arising in the first place.”

Most of the Dalai Lama’s posts had something to do with the spiritual maturity that comes when we control our selfish emotions and seek to move toward love and compassion.

I also have a spiritual godmother who sends me the daily devotional from Richard Rohr who is a Franciscan Priest. Below is an excerpt from the latest devotional she sent me titled “From Judgment, to Contemplation, to Action.” from his January 19th Daily Devotional.

“We are supposed to move toward love.  Mature religion’s function is to make us capable of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, and care for others.  When religion is not creating people who can reconcile things, heal things, and absorb contradictions—then religion isn’t doing its job.

When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection.  Instead, it became “winners take all” and losers lose all.  That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people.  Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won.  That is ego at work and surely not soul.”

In the writing of these two men, I hear echoes of the Apostle Paul who writes in Romans 12:2,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As well as this passage from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  More importantly I hear the words of Christ who instructed us in John 13:34, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

My friend is not drawn to “Buddhism” but to “love.”  I find it sad that when he thinks of the church and Christian leaders, he thinks of judgment more than love.

My dear spiritual godmother, is a contemplative Christian and I am a contemplative activist in training.  As Richard Rohr points out, contemplative practices are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition.  Sadly, they are neglected in our contemporary expressions of the church and my friend is not the first person I have met who yearns for this level of spirituality but who sees it only expressed in other faith traditions.

As Rohr writes, to embrace contemplative practices we must be willing to embrace paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection.  We must be willing to enter into a mystery and accept that life is not neat and tidy.  There is no guide book to avoiding suffering and we are not in control of our own lives. We must accept that life is messy, unpredictable and is often unfair.

Yesterday we had wind gusts of up to 45 miles an hour here in Richmond.  I decided to go for a run down to the lake.  I went out on a dock which jets out into the water.  I was standing on the side of the dock when a gust of wind hit and almost blew me over.  I felt God leading me to lie down and close my eyes and to simply listen to the violent sound of the rushing wind and to feel its power pushing against me.  As I felt the wind, I realized I was not moved.  It was only wind.  Most of the forces that come against us in this life are like that wind.  They can terrify us, push against us and threaten us.  Contemplative practices teach us how to lie down in the midst of the storm.  When we learn to be still and let Christ calm the storms that are brewing all around us, we can find the inner peace and tap into the Devine power that Jesus speaks of.  We cannot make the winds stop blowing, but we can learn to not be moved by them.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” And in John 15:5 Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

If we head these words and rediscover contemplative practices, we will bear the fruit of compassion spoken of by the Dalai Lama and we will learn to lead with love as Rohr envisions.  And someday, when people like my friend think of the church, it is these images of love, acceptance and non-judgment that will come to their mind.

My prayer for my friend is that he finds a group of contemplative Christian activist who are living with compassion toward the world.  He might find Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation or Contemplative Outreach an interesting place to start.  I also praise God for using the words of the Dalai Lama to help my friend see Christ more fully and pray God continues to bring wise council into his life.


Filed under Spirituality

Ministry on the Move

If you have read my book, you know Embrace Richmond started with me asking my neighbors the question, “If you could do anything for God and knew you would not fail, what would you do?”  At that time, I drew a picture of a bus with a cross on top.  It was mobile ministry bus taking the dreams of my suburban community into the city and connecting it with the dreams of our urban sisters and brothers.  In hindsight, I kind of wish I would have drawn a stationary building instead of something with wheels!  Since its inception, Embrace Richmond has been a ministry on the move – both literally and figuratively.  We have been housed five locations in seven years and we are not done yet.

It is time again for us to say farewell to one home and embrace the next phase of our journey.  On March 1st, we will say good-by to our home off Commerce Road which we have been privileged to share with the CARITAS Furniture Bank, Homeward and The Healing Place for the past two and a half years.  While we are sad to leave our friends and partners, we are very excited about our new home at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.  In some ways, we have come full circle.  As I shared in my convocation message at BTSR in the fall, Embrace Richmond grew out of the rich theological foundations laid by my seminary experience.  While BTSR will be the sixth physical address for Embrace Richmond it was the first spiritual home for the ministry.

This move is both a physical change but also reflective of what God has done over the past year.  We believe that this move will do far more than provide a roof over our head but will set us on a new course:  A course that more fully aligns us with our goal of strengthening communities by mobilizing people of faith in works of service.

One of the greatest privileges I have had over the past year is the opportunity to teach Christians solid, biblically grounded practices around “neighboring.”  As my CFA coach, Jay Van Gronigan, pointed out so much of our training as Christians both in seminaries and sanctuaries focuses on the first portion of the great commandment – loving God with all our heart, mind and soul.  There is almost no training available for people of faith around the second portion of the great commandment –  loving our neighbors as ourselves.  So much of what goes on under the title of “missions” is more about the needs of the church and the giver than it is about truly loving those in need as ourselves.  As I have had a chance to visit with pastors, particularly those who are planting new churches, it is this kind of learning that they are hungry for.

So how will this move impact us?  It has forced us to make a firm commitment to our Hillside friends.  Effective March 1st, we will open up a satellite location in the Hillside Court community which will be staffed by Embrace team members from 11:00-2:00, Tuesday through Thursdays.  During the increased hours, we will be offering new projects focused on health, employment and youth.   More information about this program expansion will soon appear on the Embrace Richmond website.  Our goal is that by September 2011, this Hillside portion of our ministry will be fully operated by Hillside residents and that it will serve as a connecting place for at least half the Hillside households.

At our BTSR headquarters we will focus on recruiting and training the next generation of pastoral leaders and laity.  Having such close proximity to BTSR, Union Presbyterian Seminary, J Sargent Renalds Brook Road Campus as well as Virginia Union University will significantly increase our ability to recruit and train mentors to serve in our community based programs as well as help prepare individuals to serve in other parts of our city and through other ministries.  We will be conducting future Unity Works sessions at this new location and are hoping to offer a class on community development at some point in the future through BTSR or one of the other schools who are a part of the theological consortium.

With the successes in connecting with the residents of Hillside using an Asset Based Community Development model,  we are hoping we can help other individuals and congregations develop their own ABCD based ministries in other communities across the city and ultimately across the state of Virginia. We are planning to have an ABCD training in the month of May.  This training will be conducted by Jay Van Gronigan the founder and Executive Director of Communities First Association, an organization dedicated to equipping churches for community based ministry across the country using ABCD principals.

Through our affiliation with Communities First Association, we have been blessed to catch a glimpse of what God is doing across this country as Christians learn to be good neighbors and learn to walk in solidarity with the materially poor.  We have seen God doing the same work here in our own city and hope that we can play a small role in fueling this exciting movement of God.


Filed under Community Development, Urban Ministry

Will the Ax Fall?

Yesterday I escaped to our cabin in rural Virginia for much needed personal retreat.  I was lying on the picnic table studying the barren branches of the red oak tree above me, which appeared at first glance to be in its winter dormant state.  As I focused in on the branches, I realized there were tiny buds that were barely visible from where I was laying.  I climbed on top of the picnic table and got a closer look.  Sure enough, little buds which will soon be beautiful colored leaves were starting to appear at the tips of the branches.  With the ground still frozen, mother nature was preparing for the next season.

Like that tree, our ministry at Embrace is preparing to bring forth an abundance of new growth.  For the past year we have planted seeds, watered them, and waited.  Some of this new growth will be seen in the form of new projects like our partnership with Shalom Farms, the Food Bank Mobile Food Pantry, a new youth focused creative arts program with Oak Grove Elementary School CIS, health programs in partnership with MCV and the Health Department’s resource centers, a new computer lab and employment program at Hillside Court as well as a comprehensive block by block neighborhood care strategy just to mention a few.

However the more exciting growth is happening in a way few can see.  Slowly but surely people in our Hillside Court community are breaking free of the bonds of isolation that has held them captive in fear, loneliness and depression.  We are seeing not only new ministries take root and blossom but we are seeing people come alive, grow and bear fruit in the form of love for their neighbors.

While most people would never drive through Hillside and see what I see, those with eyes to see who are willing to be still, get up close, and really focus will see the buds of something beautiful developing.  In about six weeks my barren little red oak tree will burst forth with color, growth and promise.  Likewise, within six weeks the Hillside Court community will do the same.  The Recreation Center will no long sit empty most of the day but will become a hub of activity as our AmeriCorps members launch their new projects with zeal and excitement over what God has done in and through the residents of Hillside Court.

The newspapers are filled with stories of the death, violence and the utter despair of this community – death and destruction sales newspapers.   Will the TV camera’s still be around in six weeks?  Will anyone care to record the positive life- giving efforts of a few brave souls who have chosen not to live in fear but instead have gotten on the solution side of the issue?  I have been approached by several media personalities about doing stories about the recent murders in the community.  I have declined them all.  I believe a community will become what it focuses on.  If we put the focus on people being victims, then that is how they will see themselves.  I think my friends in Hillside have the power of God on their side and they are more than conquerors.  They will use what the enemy intended for harm and turn it into good.

While the enemy in Hillside carries semi-automatic weapons and thrives in a culture of terror and fear, the greatest enemy to this fragile community is not the killer on the corner – it is the arrogant in Washington DC.  All this new growth and development in Hillside court was made possible by funding from AmeriCorps.  Through these funds we have mobilized the residents to reclaim their community. We have created opportunities for people to earn a living, learn new skills and get a college education.  In an effort to keep campaign promises and win political clout, congress is poised with an ax at the root of our fragile little community as they threaten to completely eliminate the AmeriCorps program.

Howard Liebers writes the following regarding these proposed cuts:

AmeriCorps is a national service program which offers opportunities to millions of people from a variety of backgrounds to give back to their communities. They volunteer, some full time, for a very small living stipend and an education award. Among the recommendations from the House Appropriations Committee was a complete elimination of the AmeriCorps State and National Program to save $373 million. But the cuts translate to much more, impacting thousands of Americans who serve and more than 1,840 national and local non-profit and community groups.

Let’s take a look at the return on investment from AmeriCorps since 1994:

AmeriCorps Fast Facts:

§  637,000: Number of people who have served as AmeriCorps members since 1994.

§  774 Million: Total number of hours served by AmeriCorps members.

§  $1.77 Billion: Total amount of Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards earned by AmeriCorps members since 1994.

§  2.4 Million: Number of community volunteers managed or mobilized by AmeriCorps members in 2008.

§  3,300: Number of nonprofit, faith-based, and community organizations served by AmeriCorps members last year.

§  $6.3 Billion: Amount of AmeriCorps funds invested in nonprofit, community, educational, and faith-based community groups since 1994.

Pray God intervenes and protects not only the community of Hillside court but thousands of other non-profits like Embrace Richmond that will be impacted as well as the thousands of communities and hundreds of thousands who receive goods and services because of the work of AmeriCorps members serving across this nation.


Filed under Community Development, Stories from the Street

So what does Embrace Richmond do again?

It is really demoralizing to speak for 45 minutes to a group of pastors about your ministry and then get asked, “What do you do again?”  Even worse is to have people come up and tell me about the great furniture they have to give me for a furniture bank I have not run for more than two years.  I guess it is just human nature for people to gravitate toward the tangible things and to have trouble grasping the concept of development focused ministry.

In our materialistic American culture, far too many of our responses to poverty involve “giving fish” and far too few of our responses go to the level of “teaching people to fish.”  Even fewer of our responses get to the root causes of why some communities have no fish or “the condition of the pond.”

I want to thank Jay Van Groningen of Communities First Association for sharing this “fishing” analogy with me.  Jay coaches dozens of community development professionals across the country and apparently I am not the only person doing this work who finds it challenging to articulate the process in a way that others can easily grasp.

So here is yet another attempt to articulate what Embrace Richmond does.  We teach people to fish (individual development) by empowering them to address the lack of fish in their community (giving fish) and together we address the systemic issues that have eroded the relational, economic and spiritual fabric of impoverished communities (condition of the pond).

Still clueless?  Maybe a couple of stories will help.

Two years ago I met Antionette Morell (3rd person from right above).  She is a resident of Hillside Court who shared that she did not know her neighbors and felt isolated and lonely.  We invited her to come to our listening conversations and we learned that Antionette had a dreamed of making Hillside court a friendlier more connected place.  She had a dream of welcoming new residents with welcome baskets, getting to know her neighbors, getting the residents together for fellowship events.  For a year Antionette has served as a key volunteer in Hillside Court doing all the above.

Last week we brought Antionette on as an AmeriCorps member.  As an AmeriCorps member, she will be trained as a community organizer.  Antionette will meet the needs of her neighbors (giving fish), she mentors other residents in how to be good neighbors through our block captain program (teaching fish).  Most importantly Antionette will be breaking down the isolation so often present in resource poor communities.  Antionette is changing the condition of the pond by helping her neighbors build social capital.  It has been proven that individuals with strong social networks are better equipped to advance economically.  In her own small way, Antionette is breaking the strong hold of poverty in her community.

Still don’t get it.  Let’s try one more.

I met John (3rd person from left above)  last summer when he was selected to receive furnishings through our “welcome home” project.  On the day we furnished John’s Hillside home, Antionette gave him a welcome basket and I invited him to come to our community gatherings which he gladly did.  We learned that John felt strongly that everyone should have access to enough food.  You might remember John from the post Jesus brought Sweet Potatoes.  For more than six months, John has been a faithful volunteer on our health and safety team and two weeks ago he joined our AmeriCorps team as our “Food Security” project coordinator.

Like Antionette, John will be trained as a community organizer.  John will be coordinating our monthly trips to the grocery store, will lead our mobile food pantry project as well as our community garden partnership with Shalom Farms.  John will recruit his fellow residents to help him and in so doing, he will break down the walls of isolation, depression and fear that separate people in the Hillside community.  It is these walls of isolation that is allowing people to kill one another with no one calling the cops.  By breaking through the isolation, the residents will discover “the power of we” that is essential to stopping the violence.  In his own small way, John is saving lives by feeding the hungry in his community.

Please join me in praying for Antionette and John’s ministry to the Hillside Community.  They are truly missionaries and street saints in one of the most challenging communities in our city.

So what does Embrace Richmond do?  We find amazing people like Antionette and John and we pour all our resources into helping them achieve the dreams they have for their neighbors.

So, did I do it?  Did I explain what we do in a way that people will stop offering me their furniture and instead join me in supporting Antionette and John’s dreams?

Antionette and John are only two of our ten Community Focused AmeriCorps members who have mobilized dozens of Hillside residents.  There are dozens more amazing stories I have yet to share.  So, subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss any of our great stories!  And please feel free to share your own amazing stories.

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Filed under Community Development, Stories from the Street, Unity Works Reading

Presencing: The Role of the Suburban Church


In an article titled The Church – A ‘Presencing’ Body For Advancing Sustainably?, Gail Plowman states “that actions don’t create relationships, but relationships often create actions.”  In my post “The Power of We”, I shared my belief that the core of any effective effort to change a community or an individual is grounded in relationships.  In this article, Gail makes a strong argument for what she terms “Presencing.”  Gail writes:

Presencing is a combination of being truly present in the moment – knowing the direction in which you want to go, ‘observing, observing, observing’ – and reflecting with an open mind, an open heart and an open will, sensing the emerging possibilities so that the next step is apparent, can be trialled and feedback gathered in the innovation process. On the way judgement, cynicism and fear will, hopefully, be bypassed.

I met with a Senior Pastor from a large suburban congregation this week who asked me, “What is the role of the suburban church?”  At the time of the meeting I had not read Gail’s article but as I was reading it I realized the answer to that question is “presencing.”  The church is not called to be successful, we are not called to create programs, committees, or to build structures to house all the above.  We are called to be present with a hurting world.  It is our need for quick fixes and measurable outcomes that is undermining the long-term power of  tranformative power of being present with people, looking for where God is already at work, and participating with people in the unfolding of new possibilities.

As a very action oriented person who likes to see outcomes, this article was a reminder that it is not about me, my program, or my ministry.  The power to transform the old into something new  lies in allowing God to move through us and become the presence of Christ in the world.


Filed under Community Development, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Putting the Pieces Together: Affordable Housing

Every time we teach Unity Works, I think I learn more than the participants.  For those of you who do not know, Unity Works is an 8 week interactive workshop series designed to address some of the most challenging issues facing our city. Our goal in facilitating these workshops is to help congregational groups be more intentional, innovative, and thoughtful regarding how they engage in missions activities locally.  This particular workshop series is focused on the issue of homelessness in our city and we were invited to facilitate this series by members of Commonwealth Chapel.

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Filed under Community Development, missional church, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

The Power of We: An Anti-Terrorist Weapon

“If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about your community in the next year, what would you change?”  This is the question we ask as a part of our initial asset mapping of our Hillside community.  I guess I should not be surprised to find that 100% of the individuals asked this question have responded “make the community safer.”  As I shared in 3 Weeks, 3 Shootings, 3 Dead, our Hillside community started off the year with an unprecedented level of bloodshed.

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Filed under Community Development, Stories from the Street, Unity Works Reading