I thought the GPC Annual Meeting went well last Sunday. I know our outgoing Moderator Nancy White was happy about that and I would bet our new Moderator Anne Kruse was even more delighted! Annual Meetings are one way a Church Body comes together to make decisions and to keep one another informed about what is going on. It seems we have more modes of communication now than ever before and yet, good old-fashioned meeting face to face can’t be beat as a way to foster community.
Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is about what the people who started the early church did after Christ had left them. It says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This was a community that loved to eat and pray together. Just like us! We have many cooks and bakers here at GPC and we have so many good excuses or occasions for eating together, praise be to God. I think most always we pray first, but if not, let’s do that. After all, everything we put into our mouths comes from Creation and it’s good to thank the Creator. Do we eat together and get things done around here with “glad and generous hearts,” as is described in verse 46? I think we do our best and perhaps there is room
Since we are talking about what it means to be a Christian Community or Community of Christ today, I want to share with you the thoughts of one of my favorite Christian writers, Carol Howard Merritt who writes for the Center for Progressive Renewal in Atlanta GA. In her recent article, “Popping the Communications Bubble” Carol writes about the ways Churches communicate within:
Most of our communication at church occurs with one another (such as) requests for prayer, gratitude for volunteers, and planning for events. Yet, as we talk within our bubble, we forget how to talk with people outside of it. (We become) “the best kept secret in town.” How can we change that? How can we construct a compelling message for our larger community? We (are tasked) to learn to talk with those surrounding the church, not just in the church. How? We can:
Listen. It’s never a good conversation when only one person is talking. As churches, we have a lot of avenues to say things, but we don’t always listen. So, that’s the first step. Join a Facebook neighborhood group, look at demographic reports, and walk around the block. Talk with neighbors, engage with social justice advocates, and ask the local school what they need. Listen to the common fears and anxieties in which people simmer.
Think about your gifts and how they might meet the needs of those (outside our building) Churches have incredible resources that can meet fears, anxieties, and needs. When people feel stressed out because they have health problems, we have prayer groups and supportive, healing communities. When they feel stressed because of a lack of time or finances, we have places where we can re-prioritize our lives and call for rest. When they are grieving, we have rituals surrounding sorrow. When people feel alone, we have places where they can connect with other people. Identify the problem and solution. When businesses start, they have to draw up a plan that indicate a problem and a solution. Of course, churches don’t have “the solution” to everyone’s problem but it’s a good exercise to think about how your church community is helping.
Find your church’s story. We all tell stories about our churches, so what is the story that best communicates who we are? Stories can inspire us, cast a vision, and create resilience. Can we dig into the history of our church and find a story that might resonate with the problem and solution we identified? We have an amazing local history here at GPC so I know we can.Figure out the best tools for communication. Many church leaders feel exhausted with email, so they’re not excited about taking on a bunch of social media accounts on top of it. Yet, finding the right person (like Justus ) and tools for communicating our message is extremely important. It might be through Google Map reviews, Yelp reviews, podcasts, Facebook event invitation, or giving out a bag with our church logo at the Farmer’s Market! That’s a cool idea. Anybody here go to the Farmer’s Market?
(Merritt recommends that) 50% of (our) communications (should be) geared toward those who are outside of our church community. After all, we are sharing the good news of God’s love for all, right? Shouldn’t we spread that joy around? How are we doing this? How and how well are we sharing the good news of God’s love in our wider community? We can start with the service we do in our local Worcester community. Once a week, the Food Pantry Angels serve bags of store bought and donated food to people in the two zip codes nearest to 25 Francis Street. This is a great thing to do and I hope it engenders a sense of good will and caring to people who live in our area. How could we expand on that good will and distribute even more food? There’s the Mustard Seed food kitchen which is over on Piedmont Street. That’s something we participate in monthly, the third Thursday of the month. Anna Marsden with Jan and Steve Andersen cook up a delicious batch of Meatball Stew, and under the direction of the intrepid Kim Pare it is served by volunteers she recruits, along with cookies. Everybody loves cookies! Approximately 125 people are served each month, which is greatly appreciated. However, it is pretty much the same volunteers who do it, so Kim would love to see more people in the Congregation participate. Amazingly, she makes it so easy to do and basically walks you straight through it step by step. It seems strange to say but meatball stew can actually be an act of love to people who really need a meal.
We here at church have got plenty to eat for the most part but there are pockets of people right here in Worcester that experience food scarcity on a regular basis. Late October into November the Congregation donates to a drive for purchasing Thanksgiving Dinners for families that are part of Rainbow Child Development, an organization that helps kids and parents who are economically challenged (or as we used to call it, poor.) During the Christmas Season, we have a gift drive called the Angel Tree where folks at our church donate new items of clothing and other items to about 50 children who are part of Rainbow Child Development as well. For parents who struggle to keep a roof over their heads, their homes heated in the winter and their kids clothed and fed this is an important way for Greendale to be serving in the world. Other people in the Congregation walk in May for the local homeless sponsored by the CMHA, or walk and pledge to the Worcester Crop Walk in October, which is part of a national food drive fighting hunger globally as well as locally.
Last Sunday, Kim Pare (again) with Deb Hackett, Joanne & Mike Wilder, Jessica Angers, Justus Wagner and Prisca’s daughters Debra and Hillary made 72 bagged lunches for Worcester Fellowship. Worcester Fellowship is an organization which literally worships with people outdoors who have no homes. Every Sunday the group worships behind City Hall and local churches take turns making lunch for them and bring them to City Hall for the worship time. We are committed to the 5th Sundays of July 30th, October 29th and December 31st if you would like to be part of this movement. It’s an opportunity to be with people in a non-judgmental environment to worship God as equals. There are other ways we are involved with the community and based on today’s scripture, I recommend we do even more! If you have an idea for a way to serve and would like others to join in on it please let us know. We can promote it in the weekly church bulletin and the monthly Link or put it up on our GPC Facebook page and Instagram.
According to scripture, this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. It has been said that, “one’s authentic self can be found in those places where we are able to be most generous.” The Bible is still alive and well, so let’s model the Church we read about in The Book of Acts. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number.”
Amen to that!