Helping Others

August 1, 2006

I went to a meeting last night at my new parish.

It’s always interesting to start in a new church- the meetings are different, the people are different, and everything just runs a little differently.

So was this.  In a good way.  I come from a very large church where any kind of meeting was always very planned and we were almost like sheep- just doing what we were told, even asking the questions that would have been thought of before we had gotten there in some unseen planning meeting beforehand.  That works well in a large parish, but I have to admit that after so many years of it a little change is refreshing.

This was not like that.  This was very collaborative.  It was about 10 or 15 people, and we were training for a neighborhood block walk- to go out and build relationship with the parish neighbors based on current issues affecting the community (property tax rates, health care issues, etc.).  There were lots of loose ends to tie up, and I for one felt like I was very much a part of the planning process as well as a participant.  It was nice.

Because we are walking the surrounding neighborhood of the parish, which tends to be a little bit on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, a lot of the discussion revolved around what right we have to be knocking on these people’s doors– why should they trust me as a white man coming into their neighborhood?  What do I have to offer them?  Isn’t it condescending to be coming into their neighborhood and saying that we have answers to their problems?

The answers were really helpful to me.  We should not come in and offer any answers, because that is condescending.  What we should do is just listen.  Hear what they are saying.  Build relationship.  Be open and receptive.  If we can, we try and empower them to find their own solutions to their own problems.  We will hold follow up town-hall meetings on the subjects, and invite them to come if we can get their contact information.  Things along those lines.

That was very helpful to me for several reasons.  First, because I know that I don’t want somebody else- anybody else, actually, to come into my life and tell me they have the answers for how I should live, or think they know my problems (or worse, the solutions to the problems they think I have).  What I don’t mind, though, is someone asking me what I’m worried about.  What I think about.  What my hopes are, my dreams are, for my community.  There are so many issues with the alternative, and I think as Christians we sometimes get so caught up with trying to “help somebody” that we think we have the answers without stopping to realize that it might not be our job to have the answer.

Second, and less importantly, it was helpful to me because I think this is the appropriate way to spread the word.  Jesus spread his message by performing acts of goodwill.  I think that by doing this kind of work in the world instead of the more fundamentalist/televangelist “come to our church and find the Lord” message, we will be able to attract more parishioners.  The more subtle message, in my opinion, works better, because people can see what kind of church we are rather than just have some empty words.  Then, if that interests them, they can come to worship and find out for themselves.

I hope that model works.  Because for me that’s what its all about.

j

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2 Responses to “Helping Others”

  1. Athena Says:

    Here is my question:

    Do you want to invite people to the Lord or not? What is your true motivation in contacting people door to door?

    If you are a Christian why should you not want to invite people to the Lord? Isn’t there something in Scripture about not be ashamed of the Gospel? Aren’t you demonstrating either a) shame of the gospel or b)a sense of superiority to people who invite others to the Lord.

    If you do not intend to invite people to the Lord, what you are doing can’t be anything but condescending because you are coming to someone’s door and stating “I see you need my help, what can I do for you?” If someone came to my door and said that I would probably not welcome them into my house.

    If you do not intend to invite people to the Lord then you are just some kind of political activist, nothing wrong with that, but, there are already an abundance of political activists. Christians are supposed to have something deeper, less transitory and more meaningful to offer than do political activists.

    If your true intent is to invite people to the Lord the approach you are taking is deceptive and misleading. I would feel betrayed and tricked if someone invited me to a meeting which I thought was about secular neighborhood issues and then I found out that they true intent was to induce me to join a particular Church.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Athena –

    Thanks for commenting.

    Our intent is not expressly to bring them into our faith community, although they are welcome to come if they desire. I for one do not believe that proselytizing is the best form of evangelizing.

    Our intent is simply to be good neighbors- one of Jesus’ chief messages. We hope to offer a friendly ear. We do not have answers. But maybe we can offer help in putting people in the neighborhood together, so that when together they may be able to solve their own issues in a way they couldn’t when they were apart.

    Relationship is a chief tenant of the gospel. I believe it is the message of the gospel. We are too blind to see how damaged our relationships are. We motivate ourselves by trying to manipulate our relationships- manipulate them into coming to our church, believing what we believe, thinking what we think, or whatever. That is destructive on relationships.

    Listening is not destructive. Listening is constructive. That is our intent.

    j


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