“Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love, which makes it all the more demanding (if frightening) to realize that for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.” – P.C. Ennis
In a sermon a few weeks ago I spoke to the need for all of us to “get proximate to suffering.” As a predominantly middle or upper class, white, financially comfortable community, we often have a choice – by virtue of where we live and who we interact with – not to see those who are hurting and suffering right here in our community. But when we think about Jesus and his mission, Jesus was often found in the midst of “the margins,” often spending much of his time ministering to those who were outcast from society. He healed the sick, proclaimed good news to the poor, and seems to have spent A LOT of time hanging out with the “wrong” sort of people – so much so that the Pharisees referred to him as “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Lk 7:34) and asked his disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Mt. 9:11). Eating is more than just simply consuming food. Eating together is a bonding experience. When you eat with someone, it shows that you have a relationship and that you share a common bond.
Jesus was in the business of transformational relational ministry. In other words, he was interested in changing lives, by affirming God’s love especially to the people who rarely experienced love from their society/community. Jesus came near to all those who were hurting, sick, suffering from demons, disease, social isolation… those who were in need of God’s love and healing. His was often simply a ministry of presence. As followers of Jesus, we are called to do the same work. We are to do the work of surrounding, encouraging, igniting the divine spark that resides in every human being, to do the work of lifting up, linking arms over shoulders with those who need our support in this chaotic and difficult life. So who do we care about and how are we expressing that care? We do a lot in the way of outreach, it’s true, but how much of that outreach helps us actually develop relationships with the people we are serving? How are we in relationship with our neighbor who is different from us?
Over the past few weeks, I have been exploring opportunities for us to do some transformational relational ministry, and I’d like to share with you several opportunities to meet our neighbors who are different from us:
The Welcome Table: (thanks to Adelaide Brooks who introduced me to this one!) Meeting your neighbor can be awkward and sometimes scary, but bonding over a delicious meal is a good way to start. The Welcome Table is a meal hosted at Grace Methodist Church (401 Grace St.) every other Thursday from 12-1pm by different local restaurants to which anyone is invited to attend and have conversation with each other. Upcoming dates: 12:00-1:00pm on March 1, 15, 29; April 12, 26
Potluck for Peace: Hosted by the YWCA, Potluck for Peace is an effort to impact peaceful change in the community through food, fellowship, and enriching dialogue. By combining a wide variety of community members, we hope to create a powerful conversation about change, acceptance, and awareness. Potlucks are held quarterly. All community members are welcome to join us for an evening filled with mature conversation and delicious food! Please bring a hearty dish to share! For more information, contact Kylah Thorpe at email@example.com. Next event: Thursday, April 26th, 6-8 PM at the MLK Center, 401 S. 8th Street.
Stand Against Racism: Also hosted by the YWCA, this event helps raise awareness that racism still exists in our communities and that it should no longer be tolerated. They seek to bring people together across communities for one common goal- the elimination of racism. There will be entertainment, guest speakers, food trucks & more! Next Event: Friday, April 27 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, 2815 South College Road
*As part of the Stand Against Racism, several female clergy in Wilmington are organizing a showing of Mike Wiley’s A Game Apart, which provides a glimpse of Jackie Robinson’s life during a bygone era of separate and unequal locker rooms, of whites only hotels, and of restaurants with only a back door for colored athletes to enter. Witness the hopeless humiliation of a star player who was showered with adulation on the field and became a second-hand citizen when he walked off the diamond. Meet Jackie’s compatriots fighting the same battles between the end zones, inside the ring and around the track. A Game Apart is a powerful lesson of courage through dedication, perseverance and leadership. Tickets will be available soon!
Often, when we meet our neighbors, we discover that their lives are incredibly complicated. I have discovered just how much I have to learn! As an example, this past week I attended a summit on supporting our children, especially in the first 2000 days of life. A screening of the film Resilience opened my eyes to the immense impact that suffering has on our lives. The film discusses Adverse Childhood Experiences, which may include abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), neglect (physical or emotional), intimate partner violence, mother treated violently, substance misuse within household, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, or incarcerated household member. The more of these experiences a person has, the more likely that person is to develop disease or self-harming behaviors. Not only is there a higher risk for alcohol use and tobacco use, for every additional ACE score, the rate of number of prescription drugs used increased by 62% and each ACE increased the likelihood of early initiation into illicit drug use by 2- to 4-fold! ACEs in any category increased the risk of attempted suicide by 2- to 5-fold throughout a person’s lifespan and increase the risk of experiencing depressive disorders. These are just a few of the impacts that our experiences have on our bodies and our social functioning. (For more information: https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/adverse-childhood-experiences)
Without a loving, supportive community to plug into, without experiencing the reality that God loves them, how many people are able to overcome those experiences and go on to lead healthy, whole lives?
There is one organization in town that I’ve been particularly impressed with who is doing the work of transforming lives complicated by these issues, and many others. Leading Into New Communities provides transitional living and case management services to meet the immediate needs of men and women returning from prison and culturally specific youth development services for African American young men ages 16-24. Their mission is to educate and motivate youth to make positive life choices and to empower men and women returning from incarceration to be productive members of our community. And they’re doing it! They have a 92% success rate in preventing recidivism (return to incarceration), which is absolutely incredible. I asked how Holy Cross can help support the work they are doing, and here are a few ways:
Teach the “Hidden Rules of Middle Class Culture” ** – mentor youth and residents of the program in navigating the subtle nuances of belonging and fitting in
Establish an “In-Kind Department” – There are companies that will often donate pallets of toilet tissue, laundry detergent, clothing, etc. which are desperately needed by the program. Help making calls to philanthropy departments at companies and pick up the donations if the company isn’t able to ship them.
Develop A Business Plan – they need successful business people to mentor individuals and the organization to develop entrepreneurial approaches to bring in revenue. This may be helping an individual develop a plan to start a business or helping the organization maximize it’s potential.
Be A Mentor/Network Resource – men for men and women for women. Help each individual establish a positive network. Often good things come from who you know.
Transportation – to appointments and work.
Organize a Retreat ** – for staff self-care, personal development, and team building.
Please let me know if you are willing to volunteer in any of these capacities.
**I am really excited about this and would love to work with a team to brainstorm and ultimately lead these opportunities. Please let me know, by text or email, if you are interested in helping me.
Sometimes meeting our neighbors can be awkward and scary, and many of us may not be ready yet to actually meet someone new face to face. But learning about what people face and why they tell the stories they tell is just as important, so below I’ve listed a few resources from the Trinity Institute’s recent conference on Values in Action that may help get us started:
Most Rev. Michael Curry on how we address our values across the aisle:
Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World: Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community
Elizabeth Edman, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity
Deirdre Good, Jesus’ Family Values
Mark Bozzuti-Jones, Never Said a Mumbalin Word, Lenten Devotional
When we engage in transformational relational ministry we must be open to the possibility that we might also be changed. I invite you into this journey of discovery – try doing one or more of the opportunities listed above and see what God opens your eyes, mind, and heart to. We have unique opportunities to share the love of Jesus through example, perhaps even word, and to ignite those human sparks. May God bless our efforts and, working through us, do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!