People, not Programs, in Parish Ministry

21 04 2012

It is 1:30 a.m and I really need to be sleeping because I need to wake up at 6 a.m. Ah, the perils of being a night owl and having to wake up early! Plus, my husband and kiddos are at a family timeshare condo without me, so I have plenty of peace and quiet. I’ll be joining them in less than 24 hours though for some quality family time. 

I’ve been participating in a conference called the Inhabit Conference held at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. It is essentially a two day conversation around Place and Parish. Parish meaning the neighborhoods where we live and share our ministry. Place meaning what is our role right smack where we are – as church collectively. 

Our church is in a ripe place of discerning what is our role in our community. We can take pride in a lot of programs but how do we relate to those whose homes share our street, who walk their dogs, push babies in strollers, and cut through our parking lot as they make their way to catch a bus?

Today (Friday) keynote presentations were given by several leaders who are striving to truly understand their neighbors and encouraging the rest of us to join them in their plight – but join them by staying in our place and addressing those nearest and who should be dearest. 

I also participated in a few break out sessions. One in respect to immigration where I was challenged (literally called out by the presenter) to not thing programmatically but think relationally about immigrants in our neighborhood. There was one point in our small group’s conversation that I discovered there were reps from another local Presbyterian church I mentioned I’d love to connect just to see what they are doing – in my mind I was thinking I could bring someone from my congregation along and say here is an example of how a church has listened to the needs/desires in their neighborhood. Apparently those are not the word that came out of my mouth – or at least how my comment was interpreted – immediately the presenter came back at me with something along the lines of we can’t be looking to copy the programs others are doing and think it will work in our neighborhood. At first I didn’t get it that she thought that was what I intended to do and I agreed with her. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was being pointed out as taking the wrong approach. I somewhat felt attacked and frustrated because there wasn’t a place for me to come back and defend myself.  But after mulling it over for a good 12 hours I think I’m OK with the misunderstanding now and realizing I have to be very intentional with what I am saying/thinking. As if I don’t already overthink my thoughts and intentions as it is. Oh well.

All in all the break out session was very informative and helpful so learn facts about immigration issue in the U.S. and how the church can be partners and not just ‘helpers’ in a community with immigrants. Mostly it was said that there often needs to be a committed advocate  (up to 10-15 years!) to help immigrants obtain citizen status and to get educated about the reforms and laws and help immigrants understand what they are able to do so as to alleviate fear, which in turn paralyzes them from going forward. 

Another common suggestion/practice I heard all throughout the day in various conversations was not to treat neighbors as clients but as partners. We need to think of people around us in terms of relationship and not commodity. Rather than search for brokenness that can be fixed we need to identify the assets and strengths and it will only enrich everyone’s experiences. My question now is how to do we apply and translate this to our congregation (volunteers as relationships not commodities), children and youth and their parents (relationships and not commodities) and how to people take this idea of parish home to their families and neighborhoods? And how do we get to know and build relationships with all those neighbors I mentioned at the beginning of this post and more?

Ok. Time to sleep on it, only to converse and ponder some more at Inhabit in a few hours. 

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